SOUL CRUSHING

It’s Monday, April 6, 2020.

On this day 303 years ago, black slaves and some indigenous people rebelled against colonizers in what’s now New York’s Financial District.

They set fire to a building and, while firefighters fought the flames, shot, stabbed or beat to death nine white colonists, according to an account of the time by the British royal governor.

Eventually, British troops from the area put down the insurrection. 

There were 27 people were convicted for taking part. Of them, 21 were executed – mostly by burning, although one was described as “broke on the wheel,” which is a gruesome form of killing involving breaking bones and writhing in pain until death. Six others were said to have committed suicide.

The insurrection led to even more draconian prohibitions on slaves in New York City.

By the way, if you don’t think New York seems like a place where slavery flourished, a visit to the African Burial Ground National Monument – once this pandemic ends, of course – is well worth your time. 

Sorry to start your latest day of this downer existence with this downer from the past.

It’s understandable, though, that Americans might be inclined toward the sad side as this pandemic continues.

Today, the 10,000th American will have died from the coronavirus. That number is staggering to a nation that blissfully watched Kansas City beat San Francisco in the Super Bowl just two months ago and didn’t imagine this.

What’s more staggering is that the death toll is headed higher – perhaps much higher.

This is a tragedy. It’s compounded by the circumstanes. 

A horrible form of death from something caught while just negotiating life. An illness that not only kills the victim but endangers the people trying to save her or him. And death that comes without the comfort of loved ones – or even the freakin’ remembrance of mourners at a burial or memorial.

One other thing compounds this: A President of the United States who doesn’t give a damn.

Frank Bruni’s excellent op-ed piece in today’s New York Times captures this. And, because it’s written by Frank Bruni, it’s that much more potent.

I don’t watch Trump’s daily self-adulation fest masquerading as an update on the crisis. I want information, not narcissism.

But what appears to emerge from this is a complete lack of empathy for what the American people are experiencing.

Part of it, I truly believe, is that Trump sees where people are dying – particularly in New York – and sees people who didn’t vote for him. In his eyes, they deserve their fate.

Let one of the reporters at these briefings ask that question if you want to see the orange rug on his head fly off.

A nation that should be inspired to fight this enemy is instead forced to endure petulance when a frustrated governor complains about the chaos of the government’s response – or cheers that the ratings of these “briefings” are so high.

It goes against mainstream journalism’s instincts to not cover a presidential briefing. In generic terms, it would seem like malpractice not to show the nation’s leader in a crisis – would radio networks have ignored FDR speaking on the war effort?

But the appearances have gone beyond the misguided extolling of an unproven COVID-19 treatment, or the dissing of overmatched governors or trashing reporters for asking simple questions.

They’re crushing America’s soul and impeding its will to fight the virus. 

Trump’s daily briefings are the emotional equivalent of putting the victims of the coronavirus on the wheel and breaking their bones.

You and I can make the choice not to watch them. But they shouldn’t be on TV – under the guise of informing the American people – in the first place.

One other quick thought:

I’ve long advocated a celebration of health care workers, first responders, grocery and drug store workers, and food preparers and deliverers. Once this is safely over, of course. 

A ticker tape parade down Broadway seems the least we can do.

But there should also be a national monument for the victims of this scourge. A beautifully rendered tribute to the people who shouldn’t have died for this government’s inaction.

Where should it go?

How about 721 5th Ave. in New York City? 

The city and state could seize the land in an eminent domain action and we can tear down the useless structure that’s there, building something for the public’s benefit.

OK, maybe we keep the escalator as a reminder of something that should never happen again.

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SICKNESSES

It’s Saturday, April 4, 2020.

On this day 179 years ago, William Henry Harrison – the ninth President of the United States – died.

One month earlier, he delivered a two-hour-and-40-minute inaugural address on a raw, rainy day. 

The 68-year-old wanted to show his vitality at an age that most Americans of the time failed to reach. He ditched the tophat and coat for his mammoth oration.

Somehow, he caught a cold.

For a long time, people – led by his doctor – said he developed pneumonia as a result.

But a terrific New York Times article from six years ago revealed that the problem might not have been the obviously dumb idea of dressing light on a lousy day and talking for 160 minutes.

Instead, it might have been the fact the water supply for the White House was tainted by sewage dumped in a marsh nearby. And that was coupled with the questionable treatments of 19th century medicine, including a steady dose of opium and frequent enemas.

So Tippecanoe’s real cause of death might well have been typhoid or some other disease related to bad water.

Here it is, 2020, and the good news is we appear to have solved – at least in the United States and the developed world – the water hygiene problem.

Clearly, however, not the novel virus problem.

I’m now 66 years old. With the encouragement of government and business, I’ve spent much of my life preparing.

Preparing for a nuclear attack. 

Preparing for hurricanes and blizzards.

Preparing for terrorism.

Preparing for an active shooter.

Preparing for retirement.

Some of them came. Fortunately, some didn’t.

But I spent no time before 2020 preparing for a pandemic.

Maybe you were smarter. Maybe there are people who thought about this.

It might have been nice if they shared it.

This situation is jarring enough for all of us. What complicates it is the fact that it’s such a shock.

Be honest, if you had been asked on Feb. 4 what you’d be doing on April 4, what you’re doing right now wouldn’t have made the first 100 guesses you’d have made. That might even apply to March 4.

I sure as hell expected to be watching the Mets on TV playing the Nationals in Washington. Instead, I’m “playing” the game on the computer baseball game my son gave me (OOTP21 – highly recommended!). 

That’s as close to Pete Alonso and Jeff McNeil I’m going to get today.

We’ve complained a lot about how ill-prepared and ill-responsive Trump and his “all the best people” have been. Their complicity – and, by the way, all the people who support and voted for this buffoon – in this tragedy is unmistakeable and unforgivable.

But we weren’t ready. We never thought about something like this. Ever.

For some reason, either we didn’t listen to our grandparents or they didn’t say much about the flu pandemic of 1918 that killed millions. That’s the nearest parallel to this in recent history.

Maybe we were lulled when would-be pandemics were foiled. When Ebola was limited mostly to three African nations from 2014 to 2016 – in large part to a coalition led by the United States and President Barack Obama. When the first SARS virus – this is the second – was held in check in 2003 by an international coalition led by the United States and President George W. Bush.

So maybe we’re guilty of thinking party politics wouldn’t matter when it came to dealing with pandemics.

Oops! Gotcha.

So as we negotiate this ordeal – as we in greater New York and the other hotspots of this outbreak listen to the wail of sirens and see the tears of people who’ve lost loved ones without the ability to say goodbye – let’s keep this old expression in mind:

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Of course that means getting rid of Trump on Nov. 3.

But it also means being sure we, the survivors of COVID-19, and future generations are ready for the next one. Even if it doesn’t come until the 22nd century.

It means developing the protocols for treatment in medical facilities throughout the world.

It means building enough of the life-saving devices lacking in this crisis – and inventing new types of equipment that are easy and quick to build anywhere they’re needed.

It means returning some of the manufacturing we’ve outsourced to China and other nations on the other side of the world. Particularly apparel and paper products. There’s no good reason there aren’t enough masks and gowns and other personal protective equipment.

It means finding a quick and easy way for everyone to find out if they’re sick. The test situation in the United States is ridiculous. You and I should be able to wake up in the morning, take a quick test, find out if we’re OK – and then either eat breakfast or call the doctor.

It means establishing orderly methods of handling the crisis – from a national clearing house for essential goods to maintaining safe zones in which people who are healthy can go to find help for who those who aren’t.

It means preparing for the mental and emotional strain that this crisis imposes.

And, again, it means getting rid of Trump. That can’t be emphasized enough.

By the way, two of the next three presidents after Harrison – Zachary Taylor and James K. Polk – died of intestinal diseases that might have been linked to the lousy water in the White House. (Taylor died as president, Polk died shortly after he left office.)

Eventually, though, Washington solved the problem. 

I don’t know that we can ever solve the problem of pandemics. In an interconnected world, that seems unlikely.

But if sicknesses are going to happen, let’s not forget this. We owe it to those we’re losing.

Let’s prepare for the next pandemic. And hope it never comes.

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OUT LIKE AN ANGRIER LION

It’s Monday, March 30, 2020.

On this day 39 years ago, President Ronald Reagan was shot in the chest in Washington.

A politically divided nation came together in support of the wounded president. It celebrated his recovery and the skilled men and women who abetted it.

By the way, the shooting also led to serious gun control legislation, the Brady Bill, named for Reagan’s news secretary who was wounded and died in 2014 as a result.

The lesson is that there once was unity in adversity. That concept is one of Trumpism’s many casualties – as this crisis amply demonstrates.

Webster’s New World Dictionary doesn’t need its definition of “idiot” anymore.

It should just point to this New Yorker article and say “The subject of this interview.”

If you want to read about the stupidity that feeds into the narcissism of Trump, this interview with this “legal scholar” is a must.

I know a lot of really bright people who went to NYU. My wife is among them. 

What a stain this guy is on that school!

In 1980, I discovered Misquamicut Beach near Westerly, R.I. 

I discovered running on the beach. I discovered whole-belly fried clams. I discovered Rhode Island clam chowder, which is a clear broth, which I soon made a point of disdiscovering because creamy New England chowder is so much better. 

In 40 years since, I’ve visited the state countless times. I’ve seen basketball games in Providence and toured mansions in Newport.

So imagine my disappointment when the governor and the state embraced the idea of forcing New Yorkers visiting the state from self-quaranting for 14 days. 

A story in the Providence Journal tells of state troopers going door to door hunting people with New York license plates. A incredible waste of resources in a medical emergency.

I understand that Rhode Islanders don’t want the coronavirus – and that the state doesn’t have quite the outbreak that we have in New York.  

But the policy assumes that New Yorkers who drive to or through your state are too stupid to understand the situation. It assumes that residents of other hard-hit states – including its neighbors Massachusetts and Connecticut – are smarter.

It assumes they are going to flaunt the state’s stay-at-home order – which, by the way, the governor freakin’ waited until yesterday to declare.

And it assumes that we’re all some sort of amalgamation of the stereotypical self-obsessed New Yorker who doesn’t think that anything happening outside Manhattan or the five boroughs or the metropolitan area matters. As if the fatalities and heartbreak we’re seeing in the rest of the country is any less painful and heartbreaking than ours.

So, here’s my message to the folks in Rhode Island who support this stupid and unconstitutional idea:

This is going to end some day.

And when it does, don’t dare try to market your state to me or other New Yorkers as a place to spend a vacation, purchase goods and services, or do business of any kind.

Because I guarantee, as much as I love whole-belly clams and beautiful beaches and Del’s frozen lemonade, I’m not spending another goddamn dime in your bigoted, narrow-minded state.

And, believe me, I know how to hold a grudge. That’s one thing New Yorkers are really good at.

That goes for you, too, Florida.

March supposedly goes in like a lion and out like a lamb.

In 2020, most people want March to just go.

When this month began, most of us were still out and about. We went to work, the supermarket, the mall, wherever.

That seems like a long time ago. March 2020 feels like it has lasted a whole year.

So, yeah, good riddence to March.

Here’s the problem:

April’s gonna suck. Probably worse.

We are going to spend the entire month – all 30 days – cooped up at home. 

Our fear of getting this virus isn’t likely to diminish. The isolation is going to make it seem worse.

And the death toll – 2,600 at the moment – is going to be a multiple higher. We might be using the word million – or millions – in talking about the number of cases.

So, good riddance, March. The madness this time had nothing to do with basketball.

But as much as I love April, can we just fast forward to the month when it’s safe to see other people again?

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RAINOUT THEATER

It’s Saturday, March 28, 2020.

I’m supposed to be going to see the Mets raise their record to 2-and-0 by beating the Washington Nationals at Citi Field. It’s Pete Alonso Rookie of the Year Bobblehead Day.

But, by 4 p.m. ET, it’ll be raining too hard to play. Also, the season is delayed by COVID-19.

The rainout means the Mets’ No. 2 starter, Noah Syndergaard, won’t throw the second no-hitter and first perfect game in franchise history. 

That, and the elbow surgery he underwent Thursday that keeps him from pitching until next year.

A lot of folks seem miffed, shocked or amused by the report that Trump sought guidance on the coronavirus crisis from Alex Rodriguez.

My thought: A-Rod knows more about how to deal with this than Larry Kudlow or Peter Navarro. How much worse can he be?

When this is over, there should be a few things:

— A ticker tape down Broadway for the people who work in hospitals, supermarkets, take-out establishments, drug stores. As well as the police, firefighters, EMTs and – often forgotten – sanitation workers.

— Awards for the most clever short videos created during this crisis.

Here’s my nominee for today. It helps if you’ve seen “The Irishman.”  https://twitter.com/FrankCaliendo/status/1243696008325816320?s=20

Here’s what’s playing on my iTunes playlist right now: “The Heat Is On,” by Glenn Frey.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uZD8HKVKneI

Today should have been the 52nd birthday of Iris Chang. 

She’s the New Jersey native who wrote two seminal books about China – “The Rape of Nanking,” a brilliant work that revealed atrocities committed by the Japanese during World War II, and “The Chinese in America.”

Chang was working on a book about another horrific event of World War II, the Bataan Death March, when she became ill with depression. 

After a stay in a psychiatric hospital, she returned home to the West Coast – but committed suicide in November 2004.

My point in bringing up this – instead of the other cute things I could point out about something that happened on another March 28 – is a reminder how fragile we all are.

Especially now. Especially when we can’t get out as freely as we’d like and see people who can reaffirm us and help. 

Especially when we’re faced with so much pain and sickness and death that sometimes it feels apocalyptic. 

Success and fame – such as Iris Chang attained – are no cures. 

Talking it through with a loved one, a professional therapist or a minister. Looking for beauty – even on a gray March day with a lot of rain. Understanding that you’re not alone, even in this time of self-quarantine.

This is hard. Don’t minimize that. Try to understand how others are feeling but, as important, try to understand how you’re feeling. 

We’ll get through this. But not without a few rainouts.

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WA

It’s Monday, March 23, 2020. 

Today is Pakistan Day, the 64th anniversary of the nation’s becoming the first Islamic republic in the world. 

This mention is a gift to any of my future news editing. March 23, 1956 is the correct answer to the fact-checking assignment question about when Pakistan became a republic.

Tetsuharu Kawakami was born on this day a century ago.

Kawakami’s claim to fame was managing the Yomiuri Giants of the Central League to 11 Japan Series baseball championships – including nine in a row.

According to Robert Whiting’s three-part 2013 obit in the Japan Times, Kawakami was what Americans would likely sum up as a Zen hardass.

He believed in teamwork over all and pushed his players’ training to the limit. And he messed with the minds of players he thought didn’t display the proper respect and dedication.

One example: A star pitcher whose attitude Kawakami found lacking was on the mound when the Giants had a 10-0 lead with two out and nobody on in the fifth inning – one out from getting credit for the win.

Kawakami took him out. No W.

The lack of “wa,” the team harmony that was Kawakami’s guiding principle, is profoundly felt in the Coronavirus Crisis of 2020.

In some ways, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefings on the crisis are an attempt at achieving that harmony.

The idea is that, by giving people facts and leavening them with his wit and being straight forward, Cuomo tries to unify the people of the state in combatting the biggest crisis we have ever faced.

Does it work?

Somewhat. Cuomo wasn’t a particularly popular governor before this crisis, but even his critics believe he’s done a good job.

The problem is that we are addicted to polarization. It’s the operating engine of our society.

It’s why Trump is useless in a situation that requires the nation to be united. 

Forget the fact that he failed the nation by not heeding the warnings about the coronavirus when this year started. 

He could have overcome that by being a unifying force. By doing the hard stuff like making sure the government was actually functioning. 

A competent president would have coordinated testing for the virus. He or she would have commanded American industry into making the stuff needed to keep people alive.

Trump also failed to do the stuff that makes legendary presidents – bringing the country together in a crisis to defeat a common enemy.

Leaders inspire. I thought Ronald Reagan was a godawful president, but his speech after the Challenger disaster is a brilliant example of bring a nation together in grief.

Trump’s incapable of any of that. The constant effort to be the one to come up with the heroic solution for which he has no training or aptitude. 

The attempt to link this virus to being Chinese – it’s not just to China. It’s the suggestion that there’s something about these people – and, by extension, people from that part of the world – that creates these viruses that kill.

In the process, he creates the disharmony. The anti-wa. He thinks that what his supporters want – and he might be right.

But the price is ultimately failure. A situation that’s far worse than it needs be – and threatens not hundreds of lives but thousands and maybe millions.

There has never been a time in our life – and maybe only twice in American history, the Revolution and World War II – when our nation has been more in need of unification, of coordinating help for every single American with the force of every single American.

It’s why there’s such opposition to the solution offered by Trump and the Republicans. 

Instead of giving aid to everyone, regardless of economic status – instead of committing to the whole team – they’ll see if the business gods they worship want to step up and help. 

Which they’ll do – but many of them only when it’s 10-0 with two out and nobody on in the fifth inning.

Alas, there’s no Tetsuharu Kawakami to take out the pitcher. 

That’s going to have to be our job. November can’t get here fast enough.

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GODDING UP THE CEOS

It’s Saturday, March 21, 2020.

It’s the 58th birthday of Matthew Broderick – a man with the good fortune of having everyone think of him as a teenager even on his 58th birthday.

It’s the 14th anniversary of Twitter. Jack Dorsey and his colleagues supposedly created it after a day-long brainstorming session on March 21, 2006.

Twitter is one of those things people love to hate. I thought it was really stupid when I first encountered it. 

But because it was becoming an important source of information, I was compelled to join it when I worked at CNNMoney. And now, like lots of other people who were initially skeptical, it’s a regular part of daily life.

So much so that I suspect it would be harder for health experts to say don’t look at Twitter than it is to not touch my face during this pandemic. 

The problem is that it’s hardly an untarnished public good. 

One handle says that best: @realDonaldTrump.

So is the world better because of that March 21st in 2006? 

The tweet is out on that.

Song of the day: “Dreams” by the Allman Brothers.

Red Smith, one of my sportswriting heroes, told the story of the year he was at spring training writing feelgood stories about the baseball players getting in shape in Florida.

The pieces drove his boss, New York Herald-Tribune sports editor Stanley Woodward, to almost send a wire saying “Will you stop godding up those ballplayers?”

Ballplayers still get godded up – my Pete Alonso Polar Bear t-shirt is testimony to that.

Unfortunately, even more so, so are business moguls.

Since the 1980s, the people who’ve been held in awe by media and – to some extent – the general public are the mostly men who run companies or make shrewd investments and become wealthy.

Think about how people like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, Elon Musk have been lauded over the years.

Think about how Jamie Dimon of Chase, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs and other financial services leaders never spent a day in prison for what they did to the U.S. economy in 2008.

Think about Jack Walsh, the recently passed former CEO of General Electric. At the turn of the century, I remember watching him on CNNfn – and the interviewer treated him as if what he said was the equivalent of the tablets from Mt. Sinai. 

Walsh and CNNfn are both gone. Thanks to the way Walsh ran it, General Electric almost is.

Finally, think about Donald J. Trump. 

He cultivated an image of business mogul extraordinare. “The Art of the Deal.” “The Apprentice.”  The gawdy hotels, the gold-plated offices.

Before he became president, Trump was a fixture on TV networks – even the ones he now labels “fake news” – as some sort of business expert. 

Didn’t he have a weekly appearance on CNBC? And I remember seeing him oozing through the newsroom at CNN.

The problem with Trump was that he was a fake. He took his father’s real estate fortune and ran it into the ground, needing help from other business moguls to stay afloat.

There were people who saw through him – in fact, more people did than didn’t in 2016.

But there were a lot of people who didn’t. And in a nation where making money is primary – it’s gospel to some – Trump seemed like the answer to their own financial crises.

And yet, if Bill Gates or Michael Bloomberg or even Warren Buffett had run against him four years ago, they might have beaten him.

Because business moguls make money and that commands a godlike amount of respect.

You know what doesn’t respect these folks’ ability to make money?

The coronavirus.

That little bug floating ominously around all of us is about to leave thousands – and possibly millions – of us dead.

And yet, the Republicans led by the U.S. Senate – led by Mitch McConnell, a strong candidate for the most infamous person in American history – think that helping corporate America, business moguls, are the ones who have the answers to this crisis.

They see the gods of industry – who certainly lubricated their cause with millions in campaign contributions – as having the wherewithal to pull us out of this. Give them money and their supposed acumen will solve everything.

No.

They’re one of the reasons why we’re this messed up right now.

If Trump had been less concerned about the stock market and corporate well-being, and more focused on what was needed to stem this outbreak, both the outbreak and the economy would have been better controlled.

And where were the business leaders, these so-called wizards of finance? If they were as astute as they want people to see them, they would have waived red flags like the color guard team in a marching band.

So if the federal government is going to act to solve the health and financial crises – IN THAT ORDER – it needs to focus on individuals. 

It needs to mobilize American industry in the same way this country did that after Pearl Harbor. 

Apple and General Motors can stop making iPhones and GMC trucks, and start making ventilators. Drugmakers can focus on vaccines and treatment instead of erectile dysfunction and age spots. Small businesses can make millions of masks and gowns, and gallons of hand sanitizer.

Congress and the administration need to stop worrying about bs like means testing and whether people who earn very little money get less than people who earn little money.

We’re not getting out of this until we stop godding up the CEOs, the hotshot investors, financial services companies. Focus on helping everyone and not the guys who are good at making – or, in the case of Trump, faking making – a buck

And let’s go back to godding ballplayers. Right now, that seems pretty wonderful.

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NOSTALGIC FOR LAST WEEK

It’s Thursday, March 19, 2020. 

Spring begins at 11:50 p.m. ET, the earliest start to the season in 124 years.

What a waste!

It’s the 84th birthday of Ursula Andress, one of the screen sex goddesses of the 1960s.

She was the first Bond girl, showing up on a beach in a white bikini in “Dr. No.” That was the only film I’ve ever seen her in that I’ve – at any time – thought was good.

Mostly, I associate her with crappy movies.

I’m thinking in particular of something call “She” from the mid-1960s. It was one of the movies my family saw at the drive-in – we went to the drive in every weekend in the summer – and it made the running list of spectacularly bad films my mother and I compiled over the years.

Being 11 years old when “She” came out, I might not have been that impressed with Andress’ physical attributes. That leaves the acting ability – although I guess that is not why people went to see films like that.

Anyway, I hope Andress – like everyone else – is safe on her birthday.

Speaking of the ’60’s and ’70’s, I watched “The Irishman” last night and was impressed with its depictions of some iconic American roadside establishments.

When we traveled, Howard Johnson’s were a must stop. The motels were considered state of the art – and the restaurants, way before McDonald’s, marketed to kids with characters and tchotchkes.

There was also a Stuckey’s – we lived on those pralines during our 1972 cross-country drive – and a Lum’s, where I ate once a week during my internship in Jackson, Michigan.

HoJo and Lum’s are gone. Stuckey’s is trying to make a comeback – now that I know there’s one in North Stonington, Conn., I’ll try to get there this summer.

If we can travel by then.

My friend and former colleague, Jessica Dickler, writes for CNBC.com that state schools could see a surge in enrollment.

That’s because families, crushed by what could become the great depression of the 21st century, look for more affordable college options than the really expensive private universities.

As someone who teaches at a state school in New Jersey, I worry more about the kids already in my class.

Even though a state school is a fraction of the cost of a private one, it is very difficult for many of these young people to afford. Just about every single student I’ve had works a full-time job or close to it to be able to pay for tuition. 

Now, with talk of 20% unemployment, are these students going to need their jobs to help support their parents – making a class in news editing a luxury for which they’ll wax nostalgic?

My iTunes playlist today is songs played between 30 and 39 since 2010.

The current song is “Confirmation” by Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers.

In addition to all the stuff at the top, today is St. Joseph’s Day.

It was my paternal grandmother’s favorite day of the year. Unfortunately, she would spend it making a Sicilian dish that combined spaghetti with sardines.

Mercifully, there are better things one can eat. Like this recipe online for St. Joseph’s zeppole – including the ricotta-filled ones known as sfingi: https://olives-n-okra.com/saint-josephs-day-zeppole/

Buona festa di San Giuseppe!

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