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UNLUCKY #13 – I HAD ONE GREAT MEAL IN ITALY – THIS IS NOT IT!!

Guardia as I mentioned before is no tourist mecca.  A small town with a population of about 5000 people and the average age is 46.  An interesting statistic with possibly no bearing on my next statement;  There are 3 – 3.5 restaurants in Guardia Sanframondi so where to dine out is never a real dilemma, take your pick, 1,2, or 3.  Peter wanted to have dinner at a restaurant that was practically across the street from our apartment- Le Meridiana (The Sundial).  The dining room was very large with a bar area adjacent in the rear.  I think one of the attractions for Peter was that three walls were glass from floor to ceiling.  It was a Thursday evening and we arrived around 8:00pm, not early but perhaps not as late, as we Americans have been led to believe, when Italians eat.  The entire restaurant was EMPTY!  Naturally we chose a table near the windows.  I was flabbergasted that no one was there except for a couple of girls and a guy in the bar.  Well clearly, service wasn’t going to be an issue.

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Lovely, Large and Empty!

I freely admit that I’m not an adventurous eater, I don’t usually put anything in my mouth that I’m not somewhat familiar with (dangling preposition).  However, here I am in the fatherland, so there should be no problem finding a delicious dish.  Also we are in the part of Italy known for their wine, cherries, grapes and fresh meat because as Raphael told us, “We are a people married to the land.”, agriculture is the main industry.

I look forward to using my limited Italian to order for both of us;  Peter order a fish with a name that unrecognizable in any language let alone Italian,  I opt for what I think will be a juicy pork chop-taking advantage of an opportunity to have some pork which is something along with veal and lamb we don’t eat in our home because Peter isn’t comfortable with eating anything as smart as a pig or as young as a calf or lamb.  Hey, it’s his thing, I just go along with it at home, lol.  Of course we must have a prima piatti (first dishes);  I don’t remember what he ordered but I had a very delicious tagliatelle with wild mushrooms.  So good, looking forward to my main course.

The fish arrives with its head and tail on and so I inform the waiter with some Italian and lots of hand gestures that he must remove the head and tail and bring it back hopefully filleted.  My dish is served and there all by itself on a large plate is a very darkly grilled, very thin, not flat piece of meat.  It is obviously a pork cutlet, maybe I didn’t read the menu correctly.  A pork cutlet would be okay but NOT a pork cutlet that has been grilled well beyond well done and is now very tough!  Aha, well, we are not in New York City and there are no vegetables accompanying the cutlet, actually there is no nothing on the plate!

I ordered vino rossa locale which was good but not nearly as good as Pasquale’s father’s wine.  The final disappointment came with dessert.  I ordered their ricotta cheese cake and when it was put in front of me, it was clear that this small triangle of  what did not taste like ricotta and was topped with some strawberry syrup and a blob of Redi-Whip on top, WAS NOT HOMEMADE.

I’m not saying that the food was not good, it just wasn’t great for me, Peter loved his meal.  And why was it empty? Well Thursday night out isn’t a pre-weekend, find a date for the weekend, night.  That and this is a town where if your Mama isn’t cooking you a delicious dinner, then your wife certainly is.

It was definitely time to go home and go to sleep.  We are weary from our busy day and can’t wait to get into bed.  

                                                                                            to be continued….

House Hunting in Italy – A Busman’s Holiday??

I don’t know any real estate agent or broker who doesn’t live their profession pretty  much 24/7.  I don’t mean they are in their office every day or showing properties every day but whether it is meeting new people to expand your network or staying in touch with your circle of friends and those that are in a position to recommend  you or previewing new properties, well that’s the life of a real estate salesperson.  So even on vacation, you can probably rest assured that we (that’s me) will look a the postings in the windows of local real estate firms, read the local real estate magazines and some cases (uh oh now it’s getting personal) will actually engage a local broker to show them some property.  BUT wait, that’s not to mean they would waste another professional’s time by asking to be taken out but have no intention of purchasing,  No, when it’s just real estate curiosity that has taken hold on of oneself, then the appropriate thing to do is just go to some Open Houses,   Well that’s enough about practices here in the United States, don’t forget I’m in Italy (so to speak).

My trip to Italy was predicated on two major ideas; first to discover my roots and see the village my grandfather, Luciano Fantacone was born and raised in and secondly to explore the possibility of buying an inexpensive property in Italy, specifically Guardia Sanframondi.

I intentionally contacted Pasquale Orso about lodging and knew that he had assisted other Americans in finding a home there.   Within the first hour of meeting Pasquale, he spent considerable time explaining to me that he had connections and he could find us the perfect place.  I spent considerable time explaining to him that this was more of an exploratory trip and that I wasn’t planning on buying anything this trip!  The greater gist of this conversation was Pasquale extracting a commitment from me NOT to allow any random person on the street to entice me to look at some house because we were obviously Americans. ( Many Americans have already purchased property in Guardia Sanframondi).  I told him I understood and as a real estate broker would not do that.

That brings us to the afternoon that Pasquale is going to show us two houses;  We all      (literally 5 of us) pack into a small (tiny) Italian car and off we go to some outlying street of the town and one must park the card sort of off road at the top of a small incline.   The house is below in front of us, very sweet ranch like property with no lawn (I didn’t seem much lawn at all anywhere), however a very large patio with a rather make-shift open wall roofed structure off to one side where lots of potted plants were residing.  I thought I heard him say something about keeping the plants out of direct sunlight.  The house itself had a LOT of possibilities although Peter didn’t seem to think so.  There were really only 2 rooms;  A large great room that was the length of the house and featured an open kitchen (not exactly our standards) a fireplace, a kitchen table, a dining room table and chairs and living room furniture.  At the end of the room next to entrance to the bedroom was a very modern bathroom.  The house was not filled with light, not that many windows.  We went to the bedroom which was so big, not to make into two rooms would be a crime.  It was also dark but I believe there was a possibility of creating another window at one end.  Since Pasquale’s english isn’t exactly perfect I wasn’t clear on the configuration of the property as it seemed to be somehow connected to 3 other homes although not visibly.  He was talking about some Count or Prince or some nobility that at one time owned the estate.  The house had two small outbuilding rooms that were connected to the house  and were being used as storage sheds BUT they had two tiny windows that looked out on the mountains AND they could be enlarged.  Peter was not impressed that much and now in retrospect I think it was a shame that we saw this one first.  Cost $35000.  I’m sorry to say I don’t have a photo of the house, but this was the view.  

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I Wonder How Long It Takes Before You Get Tired Of Looking At The Beautiful Mountains?

Secundo – we are now back on one of the two main streets in Guardia and as we head down a hill, Giuseppe, a friend of Pasquale and our new driver, pulls off to the side of the street.  We are in front of a huge 3 story house.  You know using the word house here is a bit of a misnomer.  There are houses as we know them, if not in a recognizable style, they are at least wooden structures with roofs.  This is a tall thin stone structure, with a garage door (be still my heart)!  A house with a garage in the main part of town (not the medieval city).  As we enter, the first thing I see are the stairs, so many of them…But first to our immediate right there is a very large room, freshly painted and with a new floor and huge window looking at…the mountains!  And at the other end of the room, what did we see but the garage door!! Apparently the previous owners decided a first floor room was much more marketable than a garage, NOT!  Maybe they didn’t own a car, because parking on the narrow streets of Guardia is not exactly easy.  OK, so no garage, let’s go up and look.  Very steep stairs to the second floor where there are two bedrooms, nice views.  Up some more stairs, also very steep and lo and behold there’s the kitchen with a Juliet balcony, how clever, NOT.  Aside from my comments and the fact that I climbed the stairs barely breathing, it was clear to Giuseppe that this house was not for us!

                                                                                                     To be continued…

CERRITO SANNITA – THE CERAMIC CITY 

I’VE GOT TO BRING SOMETHING HOME FOR THE MAH JONGG LADIES!!!!

What am I going to bring back for the ladies in my Mah Jongg? Here I am in the middle of beautiful nowhere and as I was told by Pasquale, this is not a tourist mecca, so shorthand for NO SOUVENIRS!  I am determined not to go back home without something for the ladies.  Pasquale and Raphael have a solution – why not take a trip to Cerrito Sannita, a nearby town which is reputed to be The Ceramic City.      That sounded like a plan so we drove with Raphael to the lovely town of Cerrito Sannita.  I was on the hunt for some small ceramic item to bring back to the gang.  Similar maybe to the small dish Lili brought back to us from Israel.  We use it for the pushke.  Time for a bit of a side note!

The pushke is Yiddish for a box or container kept in the household to collect loose change;  The money is to be contributed to charity.  We call our ante up money and the money from wall games our pushke, BUT in our group charity begins at home and we allow someone to win all that money, with none going to charity.  I know that sounds terrible but since we are now in a political era of full disclosure and transparancy, I thought it best to be honest.  

Cerrito Sanita is a lovely town, not so gray like Guardia and not too colorful;  Actually I had the impression that the whole town was shades of yellow and beige.  

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Cerrito Sanita Plaza in front of Church

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Shades Of Gold and Beige

Our first stop was a visit to a museum and gallery.  There was a large exhibtion of local art – carving, casting, painting and design.  It was interesting but I was eager to go looking for some ceramic treasures.   We started walking up what appeared to be the main retail area, there were several ceramic shops – YAY! 

Whoa…first store and it looks like we are in a boutique on Madison Avenue.  Next store, also filled with what is known as antiche arti ceramiche.  All of the pieces were beautiful, lovely, rich in detail and VERY EXPENSIVE not to mention the fact that really these were the kind of pieces your great aunt gave you at your wedding.  You put in the cabinet and there it remains!  I know that sounds terrible but truly these works are very ornate and certainly don’t fit into my lifestyle and there was nothing suitable for the ladies.  

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You See What I Mean!

We walked around this clean and serene town checking out shop and shop, each one  showcasing their own ceramic masterpieces.  Discouraged and tired I was ready to return to Guardia when Raphael suggested we might try a workshop in an adjacent  small village, San Lorenzello.  It turns out that one of Raphael’s former student’s father, Egnello Guista, is a master ceramicist and has his own workshop and showroom in San Lorenzello.  We arrive at the workshop which appears to be empty, but then Raphael shouts out, “Permisso” and Antonio appears from a room on the second floor.  Antonio shows a few items but suggests we follow him to the real showroom.  When we arrived, we were ushered into a semi-underground grotto!  The surroundings were surreal in this cool stone showroom.  Antonio explained that this grotto was the actual workroom of one of the great master ceramicists.   When he died, Antonio’s father bought the workshop and turned it into his own showroom.  Antonio showed us where the clay would slide down a chute into the room and how it would be slapped onto the stone wall to drain before they worked it.   Unfortunately   (for the Mah Jongg ladies), although the designs were much more contemporary and certainly less expensive, still there was nothing there that I could see bringing home for them.   Ahh… but for me and my sister-in-law, Juanita I found the perfect little gift that would hold a lot of meaning for her and me.  A small Nativity set, unusual because it was cast in brown.  The sets I bought were significantly smaller than the one in the photo, lol lol.

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Antonio In The Grotto Showroom.

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Absolutely Beautiful Nativity Set. Hand Carved And A Meer 600 Euros

Although with due respect to the time-honored and revered art and design of the artistic ceramics, aka Neopolitan style, the two sons, now involved in the business have begun experimenting with copper and magnesium to create brightly colorful bowls and other pieces.  What they are creating is along the lines of the ceramics we would find here in the United States, whereas, the replication of the old designs might be found in some shops along Park or Madison Avenue.

We head back to Guardia Sanframondi where Pasquale awaits our arrival and we will be off to see two properties for sale.

To be continued…

FAMOUS FOR FLAGELLATION!!!

Tourists flock to Italy for many different reasons;  To Florence to see David, to Rome for the Coliseum, Trevi Fountain, Spanish Steps and more. They travel to Venice for romance of the canals, Naples for the Isle of Capri, and to Milan for the fashion.  And of course there is much more, I could go on and on, for Italy is a treasure trove of medieval history, religious fervor and festivals, mountains, miles of beautiful coastline and fabulous food.

And then there’s Guardia Sanframondi!  Not your every day tourist destination.  However, THOUSANDS of tourists, visitors, and the locals from all over the region and other parts of Italy really do descend upon Guardia once every 7 years!  2017 is one of those years.  

Guardia Sanframondi celebrates a centuries-old religious rite. The following information comes from Wikipedia:  

Guardia hosts a riti settennali di penitenza or penitential rite every seven years. The rite honors the discovery of a Madonna and Child statue found in a field hundreds of years ago. The rite consists of a series of processions the week following the Assumption. Until recently, the rite was only known locally, but as residents moved elsewhere in Italy and abroad, word of the rite has spread. It has become something of a homecoming event. There are four components of the rite:

THE MYSTERIES:  The four quarters of town each form committees to organize a parade of “mysteries” (religious scenes), with volunteers in period costumes from the Old Testament, New Testament, and Lives of Saints. The neighboring towns of San Lorenzo Maggiore and San Lupo join with the committees to stage a few of the mysteries. In 2003 there were about one hundred mysteries in all. During the week each quarter of town has a separate procession through its own neighborhood. On Sunday all the quarters form a grand procession. The participants hold a pose depicting a particular moment of the mystery as they walk through town—they do not act out events. The committees informally compete with each other to put on the finest mysteries.     

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The “Mystery” of Saint Lawrence

CHOIRS:  Each quarter also forms a choir that joins the processions. Traditionally the choirs were formed of unmarried girls, but recently married women, and occasionally men, have joined in. The women wear white clothing, a symbolic crowns of thorns, and braided cords around their shoulders.

PENITENTS:  During the neighborhood processions, several flagellanti (“flagellants”) join in. They gently strike their backs with a metal scourge. On Sunday, the procession is joined by several hundred battenti (“beaters”) who strike their chests with a spugna (literally “sponge,” it is really a disk of cork holding dozens of pins). Designated helpers pour white wine on the sponges during the procession, supposedly to ward off infection. There are a few dozen flagellantiduring the Sunday procession, who also provide crowd control. The flagellanti and battenti are anonymous. They wear white hoods and are not even supposed to tell family members they are participating. Scourges and sponges are not carried openly or displayed in homes after the rite. The battenti are all men, although a few of the flagellanti are women.  Additionally there are a few dozen symbolic child flagellanti. They wear black robes and caps, and very gently swing a small scourge over their shoulders.   

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A Penitent Holding a Piece of Cork Studded with Needles

STATUE: The rite ends with the procession of the Madonna and Child statue through the town. After the mysteries start, the statue is removed from the church, at which point a cannon sounds to announce the event. The procession stops and everyone kneels for a minute. When the statue makes its way to the town center, the battenti walk in front of it on their knees. When the procession continues, the crowds follow the statue, or walk backwards in front of it. The procession ends as the statue is returned to the church. All-night vigils in the Church of the Ave Gratia Plena continue for several day

AND that’s why we are not going back in August!  No, not really but you can’t get a room anywhere for miles and miles around.  This is a BIG DEAL!  Did you read The DaVinci Code?  Remember Silas? The albino monk who not only flagellated himself, he also wore sackcloth and strapped a metal cilice (spiked garter) around his thigh.  

As I previously inferred, religious fervor is a real characteristic in these small villages in south central Italy.  Not only are most of the towns named after saints, each town has a patron saint.  The patron saint of Guardia Sanframondi is Saint Phillip Neri.

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St. Phillip Neri – Patron Saint of Guardia Sanframondi

YOU CAN’T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER

But you can judge the attitude and culture of a small Italian town by the number of Churches it has!!!  Yup, that’s what Raphael told us;  He described in very broad generalizations what various surrounding towns were known as and exactly how many Churches are there.  “We have 4” he proudly said, and then amended his remark with the fact that really only 1 or 2 were actually active and functioning,  He took us to the largest and most beautiful one located in the walled city: Santuario basilica dell’Assunta – Basilica of the Assumption.  It was beautiful, an understatement.  

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One Of The Many Side Altars in the Basilica. Photo by Gianfranco Vitolo from Sarno Italy

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Gloriously Detailed European Craftsmanship. Just Beautiful.  Photo by Gionfranco Vitolo from Sarno Italy

We wended our way through the sometimes narrow passages, passed areas where re-construction is being done in the Medieval city, the benefit of a recent grant of     of a large sum of money to repair the structures within the walled city. 

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Evidence of Repairs in the Walled city

There are extraordinary contrasts in the medieval town between the old and abandoned and the refurbished and renovated properties being bought up by Americans and other foreigners.  

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A Bit Eerie! The Door on the Left Might Have Been for the Donkey

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A Lovely Restoration

The other churches in Guardia are:  Chiesa di San Rocco – presently not an active parish.  I particularly  love the area of the medieval city where this church is located.  

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Photo Does Not Do Justice to the Edifice. La chiesa di San Rocco

We did not go into the chiesa di San Sebastiano but admired its spire every day!  Look at the influence in the architecture (from the East).  

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We Also Saw This Green/Yellow Tile Pattern in Other Surrounding Towns.  Photo by Gianfranco Vitolo

Raphael also took us into the chiesa dell’Annunicata, also beautiful  and also had the other magnificent bell tower in the medieval town.  The campaniles are outstanding against the landscape of the city.  As you approach Guardia Sanframondi  you can see these architectural beauties in the distance.  

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A Startling Standout in the Landscape.  Campanile dell’Annunicata

 

EXPLORING THE MEDIEVAL CITY

Finally we were going to explore the medieval city and we are so lucky that a relative of Pasquale, Raphael will guide us.  He is a very learned gentleman who is a professor and someone who has an extensive knowledge of history and a keen interest in philosophy.

Raphael actually lived in the walled city when he was growing up.  His memories are vivid as he pointed out where he lived and where his grandmother lived.  He shared an immense amount of historic facts with us as we wended our way through alleys (which at one time were streets) and up and down steps.  The doorways were particularly interesting to me (as you will see from the photos).  

The history of the medieval city and its evolvement begins with the fact that much of South Central Italy was heavily invaded.  Throughout the early centuries, Etruscans, Romans, Greeks, Samnites, as well as a Gallic invasion.  Thus a walled city, often with a castle, became the prevalent manner of establishing and protecting a village.  Raphael told us that EVERYBODY  lived within the walls of the city.  They were a people married to the land, agriculture was the main industry.  He pointed out where interior houses were, those that did not have a lot of light and no view of the mountains.  Their homes were not houses in the sense we know – they were more like apartments contained in the stone structures which make up the medieval city.   He showed us where the farmers would come back from the fields with their donkeys and that the donkeys spent the night within the walls also.  Many of the ground floor doors were actually gates for the stables that housed everyone’s donkey.

As we traverse the stairs and steps, I feel late afternoon jet lag beginning to take hold.  But we’re not done yet.  We visited the beautiful Church of the Ascension and  then….   To be continued…..

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View of Guardia Sanframondi. You can clearly see the old town and parts of the new town built around it.

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Most Of The Medieval City Has Been Abandoned.

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These Doors Do Have Character

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Steps, Stairs and Arches of the Medieval City.

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Beautiful restoration. Doors to one of the newly-renovated and inhabited property in the Medieval city

 

The following article was an OP-ED piece in the New York Times Monday, July 3rd.  It was written by Charles M. Blow who clearly is not faint of heart or one to mince words.

EVERY NOW AND THEN we are going to have to do this:  Step back from the daily onslaughts of insanity emanating from Donald Trump’s parasitic presidency and remind ourselves of the obscenity of it all, registering its magnitude in its full, devastating truth.

There is something insidious and corrosive about trying to evaluate the severity of every offense, trying to give each an individual grade on the scale of absurdity.  Trump himself is the offense.  Everything that springs from him, every person who supports him, every legislator who shields him is an offense.  Every partisan who uses him – against all he or she has ever claimed to champion – to advance a political agenda and, in doing so, places party over country, is an offense.

We must remind ourselves that Trump’s very presence in the White House defiles it and the very institution of the presidency.  Rather than rising to the honor of the office, Trump has lowered the office with his whiny, fragile, vindictive pettiness.

The presidency has been hijacked.                                                                                                        

Last week when Donald Trump attacked two MSNBC hosts, people were aghast.  The condemnation came quickly and from all quarters.

But his words shouldn’t have shocked.  His tweet was just another pebble the mountain of vulgarities.  This act of coarseness was in fact an act of continuity.  Trump was being Trump:  the grossest of the gross, a profanity against propriety.

This latest episode is simply part of a body of work demonstrating the man’s utter contempt for decency.  We all know what it will add up to: nothing.

Republicans have bound themselves up with Trump.  His fate is their fate.  They have surrendered any moral authority to which they once laid claim – rightly or not.  If Trump goes down they all do.

It’s all quite odd, this moral impotence, this cowering before the belligerent, would-be king.  A madman and his legislative minions are holding America hostage.

There are  no new words to express it; there is no new and novel way to catalog it.  It is what it is and has been from day one:  The most extraordinary and profound electoral mistake America has made in our lifetimes and possibly ever.  

We must say without ceasing and without growing weary by the redundancy, that what we are witnessing is not normal and cannot go unchallenged.  We must reaffirm our commitment to resistance.  We must always remember that although individual Americans made the choice to vote affirmatively for him or actively withhold their support from his opponent, those decisions were influenced in ways we cannot calculate by Russian interference in our election, designed to privilege Trump.

We must remember that we now have a president exerting  power to which he may only have access due to a foreign power, he has proven mysteriously avert to condemning them or even acknowledge their meddling.

We must remember that there are multiple investigations ongoing about the degree of that interference in our election – including a criminal investigation – and that those investigations are not constrained to collusion and are far from fake news.  These investigations are deadly serious, are about protecting the integrity of our elections and the sovereignty of our country and are about a genuine quest for truth and desire for justice.

Every action by this administration is an effort to push forward the appearance of normality, to squelch scrutiny, to diminish the authority and credibility of the ongoing investigations.

Last week, after a growing number of states refused to hand over sensitive voter information to Trump’s ironic and quixotic election integrity commission, White House spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders blasted the pushback as a “political stunt”.

But in fact, the commission itself is the political stunt.  The committee is searching for an illegal voting problem that doesn’t exist.  Trump simply lied when he said he would have won the popular vote were it not for millions of illegal votes.   And then he established this bogus commission  – using taxpayer money – to search for a truth that doesn’t exist, to try to prove right a lie he should have never told.

This commission is classic Trump projection:  There is a real problem with the integrity of our last election  because the Russians helped power his win, but rather than deal with that very real attack on this country, he is tilting at windmills concerning in-person voter fraud.

Last week CNN reported: “The Trump administration has taken no public steps to punish Russia for interfering in the 2016 election.  Multiple senior officials said there are few signs the president is devoting  time or attention to the ongoing election-related cyber threat from Russia.

Donald Trump is depending on people’s fatigue.  He is banking on your becoming overwhelmed by his never-ending antics.  He is counting on his capacity to wear down the resistance by sheer force.

We must be adamant that that will never come to pass.  Trump is an abomination, and a cancer on the country, and none of us can rest until he is no longer holding the reins of power.