Christmas Eve In Chicago

We are spending Christmas in Chicago with the whole Turley clan. The weather is amazingly warm in the 50s. This was the picture in the morning yesterday on a walk with Luna along the lake.

Tonight I will be making our traditional Cioppino soup — a tradition started by my late father, Jack Turley. I hated the soup as a kid so fate has left this tradition to me. I am now as addicted to the soup as my father was.

It will be a balmy Christmas in Chicago!

93 thoughts on “Christmas Eve In Chicago”

  1. If Pelosi, Warren, Sanders, the MSM get their way, we will all be Simonovis.
    This man understands Christmas.

    A Former Top Cop Makes a Daring Escape

    Iván Simonovis went from Caracas police chief to prisoner of Venezuela’s socialist regime—then over a 60-foot cliff to freedom.

    By Tunku Varadarajan Dec. 24, 2019 6:18 pm ET

    Iván Simonovis is celebrating Christmas as a free man for the first time in 16 years.

    A former police commissioner of Caracas, Venezuela, he became a political prisoner in 2004 and spent much of the next decade in a tiny underground cell. In 2014 he was transferred to house arrest, from which he made a daring escape this May. Accomplices spirited him to Florida, where he now lives with his wife, Bony. With her by his side, he tells me in Spanish that he’s “trying to adapt to a life of liberty.”

    Mr. Simonovis, 59, and his family—two grown daughters and a brother-in-law—are enjoying a traditional Venezuelan Christmas feast: hallacas, a dish that resembles tamales, plus bread baked with ham and olives, chicken-and-potato salad and papaya pudding. “For sure, this is a meal that very few people in Venezuela will eat this Christmas,” he says. Even if the ingredients were available, hyperinflation would make them much too expensive for ordinary citizens.

    Mr. Simonovis’s story is, in many respects, the story of Venezuela under the Bolivarian socialist regime that has ravaged the country since Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999. The deprivation of freedom has accompanied the destruction of the economy, and the arrest and imprisonment of Mr. Simonovis—initially without warrant or charge—proves that no one is immune to the regime’s political vendettas.

    Iván Simonovis became a police detective at 21 and eventually came to be a boldface name in Venezuela. He created the country’s first SWAT team, the Brigada de Acciones Especiales. In 1998 BAE acquired an international profile when one of its snipers shot dead a gunman who’d taken a woman hostage in the town of Cúa, 40 miles from Caracas. “If you type ‘BAE Caso Cúa’ into YouTube,” he tells me, “you’ll see what happened.” The episode was caught on TV cameras. The viewing isn’t for the squeamish, but it leaves no doubt BAE knew how to do its job.

    He was promoted to head the Office of Operations for the national police. Chávez was elected president in 1999, and a year later the mayor of Caracas asked Mr. Simonovis to run his city’s police force. There he established “a professional alliance” with the New York City Police Department, importing many of its methods to the most dangerous parts of Caracas. “We tropicalized the NYPD,” he says with a smile. He enlisted the help of Bill Bratton, who had been and would again be New York’s police commissioner, as a private consultant. This association would come back to haunt Mr. Simonovis, as the regime later used it to support its contention that he was in the pay of the Central Intelligence Agency.

    “This was a turbulent time in Venezuela,” Mr. Simonovis says. “Politics was really starting to heat up.” Chávez was consolidating his control, but the press was still resilient, and civil society hadn’t lost its appetite or capacity to fight. On April 11, 2002, provoked by Chávez’s sacking of strikers at Petróleos de Venezuela SA, the national oil monopoly, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched toward the presidential palace demanding his resignation. “His treatment of PdVSA caused consternation,” Mr. Simonovis says. “The marchers were angry. There were many there from the middle class, from the nicer parts of the city.”

    The demonstration sealed Mr. Simonovis’s fate. “There was no way to stop the march,” he says. As protesters approached the palace, Chávez loyalists confronted them at the Llaguno Overpass. What happened there is fiercely disputed. Mr. Simonovis says that 19 marchers were shot dead and hundreds wounded. “I should add that some pro-Chávez people died, too.” As he tells it, the Caracas police—his officers—intervened to halt the mayhem, and that mostly involved protecting the unarmed marchers from pro-Chavez gunfire. Inevitably, the regime accused Mr. Simonovis of siding with the opposition. “That’s when the accusations started—that I was CIA,” he says. “They wanted a scapegoat for Llaguno.”

    Two months later Mr. Simonovis resigned, fed up with the regime’s hostility. He started a security consultancy with clients in Venezuela and the U.S. He worked unmolested until Nov. 22, 2004, when he was arrested at Maracaibo airport on his way to a business trip. “They told me they had to detain me because I was a flight risk,” he says. “But this was my fifth trip to the U.S. that year. I always came back to Venezuela after my business was over.”

    The most renowned cop in Venezuela was flown to Caracas in handcuffs and driven to the headquarters of the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service, known by the Spanish acronym Sebin. “They took me to a cell, 6 feet by 6 feet, subterranean, with no natural light or source of air, concrete floors, no toilet,” he says. “I didn’t know at the time, but I was to be there for eight years. Until 2012.”

    He describes his life in jail in simple language, seemingly without rancor. “My trial began a year later, in a court in Maracay, 60 miles from Caracas,” he recounts. “For many years, until my trial was over and my sentence was passed, the only time I saw natural light was when they hustled me to Maracay and back.”

    His trial lasted three years and four months. “I must have made about 80 trips, woken at the crack of dawn, bundled into a car with tinted windows, where I sat in the middle at the back between two policemen.” At Maracay he was taken straight to a cell, then brought out to the kangaroo courtroom, then bundled back into a car and returned to Sebin in Caracas. “I didn’t really see much sunlight, but I was aware of it for a few hours each time.”

    His cell was “full of mosquitoes, with a clunky fan that just churned up the hot air in there.” The greasy, dirty food antagonized his stomach. His eyesight deteriorated, as did his bones. Osteoporosis set in. He was never allowed to see a doctor. “A male nurse would come down to see me and the other political prisoners, some bankers and others, from time to time. His verdict always was that I was a ‘healthy adult.’ ”

    His wife visited him when the authorities permitted, sometimes with the children. Then she spoke to the press, indignantly describing his treatment. “Whenever she did that,” he says, “they punished me. They would curtail her visits. Sometimes, they would confiscate my toothbrush and other items of personal hygiene for weeks, just to degrade me.” After one of Bony’s fulminations to the press, he wasn’t allowed out of his cell for a month, except for one daily visit to the toilet.

    When he first saw his wife and younger daughter, Ivana, after that ordeal, it was in the usual filthy visiting room, “a place crawling with rats. My daughter, then 8, thought one of the rats was a rabbit, they were so big.” Mr. Simonovis was unshaven and cut a figure that frightened the girl. She shrank back, and he reassured her that he was emulating Tom Hanks in the 2000 movie “Cast Away.” That film, he says, “really helped me. Especially the Hanks character’s idea to set a daily routine to keep sane.”

    Mr. Simonovis set up his own routine: Exercises—sit-ups, jumps, push-ups. Contemplation. Reading. Writing, on paper smuggled in to him by Bony with the complicity of friendly guards. He painstakingly wrote a memoir, “El Prisionero Rojo” (“The Red Prisoner”). “My jailers weren’t aware I was writing a book,” he says, adding with a chuckle that they found out only once it was published, in 2013, while he was still in captivity. (He’s working on a second volume.)

    In 2008 the court in Maracay convicted Mr. Simonovis of conspiracy to commit murder and imposed a 30-year prison sentence. “The future seemed as bleak,” he says, “as the verdict was absurd.” Chávez had consolidated his suffocating control. In the tiniest concession, Mr. Simonovis was permitted to go into the sun—for 10 minutes each morning. “Sometimes, it was just five minutes. The men guarding me were occasionally men I knew. It was awkward. Mostly, they were young recruits who didn’t know how to deal with a man of my rank.”

    His condition eased in 2012. He was shifted to a military prison in Ramo Verde, 20 miles southwest of Caracas. There his cell had some natural light and air, and he had occasional visits by a doctor. “They treated me with more dignity here,” he says, because his jailers were no longer from the intelligence service.

    In 2014, thanks to Bony’s tireless efforts, he was moved to house arrest—heaven by comparison. His wife stayed with him in their two-story, detached Caracas home. “I was permitted visits by close family, but no one else,” he says. He had to wear an electronic ankle bracelet at all times, and be available for three random checks a day, when he was photographed as proof of his presence. Often that meant rousting him from bed at 3 a.m.

    Yet the security had its vulnerabilities. A police post outside the front gate was “manned by 14 or 15 cops who were bored out of their minds,” Mr. Simonovis says. He “set them up with a nice table, an awning to keep out the sun, and a TV connection.” They often wandered off “to grab a bite, or to meet sweethearts.” Behind the house was a cliff—a sheer, 60-foot drop to a road below. There was no police presence there. Who could possibly exit that way?

    Mr. Simonovis could. Before daybreak on May 6, 2019, he rappelled from a balcony to the road below. He used gear that had been smuggled into the house over months. A waiting car whisked him to a safe house. His family, by this point living in Germany, were unaware of his escape. For a month, he sneaked from one hideout to another before being driven by friends to a fishing village on the Caribbean coast, opposite the Venezuelan island of Margarita. “We passed several roadblocks from Caracas to the coast, but we weren’t stopped.” Venezuela’s culture of corruption helped: The police were interested only in stopping commercial trucks.

    At the village, Mr. Simonovis got into “a creaky motorboat” with a fisherman who’d agreed to ferry him to a “nearby Caribbean island” outside Venezuela. He won’t name the island for fear of endangering those who helped him, but he does say they swerved west. “We had bad luck on the way,” he says. “The launch developed engine trouble, and a trip that should’ve taken six hours took 12 instead.” When they finally sputtered into their destination, he was met on a desolate coast by accomplices, who drove him to an airfield.

    From there a small plane carried him to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where U.S. immigration agents awaited him. “ ‘Welcome to America,’ they said, as they took my decades-old passport, which was expired—a museum piece, really. It was the only documentation I had.”

    Mr. Simonovis is now working with U.S. and inter-American agencies to build forensic cases against members of the Venezuelan regime who have trafficked drugs and laundered stolen money. “I want nothing more than the freedom of my country,” he says, “and to help bring an end to [Nicolás] Maduro,” who succeeded Chávez after the latter’s death in 2013.

    After years of captivity, freedom takes some getting used to. “Sometimes,” Mr. Simonovis says, “when I’m driving on the highway, I have to pull over and ask myself, ‘Is all this open space for real?’ ” Unlikely triggers stir his emotions—not all of them as warm as the family’s Christmas. “In jail, you can’t imagine the value that a single cube of ice has,” Mr. Simonovis says. He didn’t have any ice for years. “Now, every time I hold a cold glass, I think of jail.”

    1. Urbi et Orbi

      Pope Francis, Christmas Message

      Pope Francis said, “May Emmanuel bring light to all the suffering members of our human family. May he soften our often stony and self-centred hearts, and make them channels of his love. May he bring his smile, through our poor faces, to all the children of the world: to those who are abandoned and those who suffer violence.”

      Through our frail hands, the Pope concluded, “may He clothe those who have nothing to wear, give bread to the hungry and heal the sick. Through our friendship, such as it is, may He draw close to the elderly and the lonely, to migrants and the marginalized. On this joyful Christmas Day, may He bring his tenderness to all and brighten the darkness of this world.”

          1. There is a perfectly good explanation for this….Rudolph, and his pack of Rein-sters, made him do it. The man was under duress when Rudolph threatened a stampede on his life. And this was all after they forced him to drink spiked eggnog and eat laced candy canes.

            1. There is even a song about Rudolph being a “mastermind.” Damning evidence, if you ask me.

              Additionally, Randolph should be implicated in this whole mess.

                1. Cindy – Rudolph is adamant that he doesn’t have a problem.

                  Santa has tried many times to get him have a “come to Jesus,” moment, or to “see the light,” and his only reply was that he already can see the light, b/c it’s on his nose.

                  You know that they say, “You can take the reindeer to the water, but you can’t force him to drink.”

      1. Thanks, Paul and back at you. Big doings around here. No 1 son got engaged to wonderful woman yesterday. Great dinner with her family and a Christmas to remember.

        1. mespo – congrats to your son and his soon to be wife. I am having Xmas with my wife’s relatives. Good times. 😉

        2. mespo!! Congratulations!!!! What a wonderful Christmas y’all must be having!
          You and Suzanne must be over the moon……and son and bride to be!
          All the best to all of you!

          1. Thanks Cindy. She’s a gem. We truly love her parents who couldn’t be more different than we (Bronx to Connecticut) but still seem like old souls. We are introducing them to barbeque (the noun not a verb), college football and firearms. They seem receptive!

              1. Cindy Bragg – I think this will be a lot more fun for the kids to create those families than Mark and his wife. 😉

                1. Paul C…..oh, yes…. But, I wasn’t thinking about future children but thinking of the parents-in-law joining them and creating a bigger family for them right now…..New family members made-up of former strangers. It’s fascinating to me!

                  1. Cindy Bragg – I got your point, I just thought there was another take on your point. The families get the joy of deciding who gets whom for Xmas or Xmas Eve. Who gets them for Easter, etc. Which grandparents are the primary babysitters? Which parents will give the best gifts to the couple? Who decides to interfere in the marriage and who stays out?

                    You find that fascinating? I find it horrifying. 😉

                    1. LOL, Paul C! You are so funny….I guess my family has been lucky.
                      Way OT …started watching “Is Paris Burning” this afternoon. Looks like a great film, but we’re having connection problems.

                    2. Cindy Bragg – I didn’t even start in on the problems of the grandparents rights if there is a divorce (50/50 chance) or buying the love of the grandchildren with the best gifts.

                      Is Paris Burning is a very good movie, but Die Hard is a better Xmas movie.

                    3. Paul C…….our grandsons are in Louisiana with their other grandmother…and the problem is that hubby and I are bored silly!!😊
                      We all go out of our way to not compete with the other, and no one in my family divorces….so we’re a weird lot! .LOL And not perfect, of course.
                      True about Die Hard. Grandson # 1 and I watched it a week ago. It’s one of his favorites.
                      Hope your day went well!

                    4. Cindy Bragg – spent a pleasant evening with the ln-laws. Biggest fight was whether Star Wars IX was worth going to see.

            1. Firearms? Not if Governor Ralph Northam gets his way.

              Father Ray Kelly is a sensational singing Irish priest who did an amazing job of marrying this young Irish couple. Outstanding job! Perhaps Mespo can hire him and officiate over his son’s wedding.

              BBQ in Richmond is on Mespo with or without firearms!

              1. estovir:

                You got it estovir! We all ate at La Grotta last night after the proposal and had a blast. Since you know Richmond, you ought to get to know Tony and Andrea who are just the best hosts. We dined on wonder filet of soul, lobster ravioli and some spicy shrimp and scallops. The octopus carpaccio was really something. Magnifico! BTW Fr. Mike at St. Marys is no slouch on the vocals.

                1. Tiz the season to feast. On Noche Buena (Vigilia di natale / Xmas Eve) we had our traditional Cuban Roast Pork, Black Beans and Flan all made from scratch – to die for. Rum and Egg Nog helped!

                  We have been to La Grotta and met Andrea who is a very classy, elegant hostess (and Latina, by the way. We briefly spoke Spanish). Friends from our parish invited us, the husband being Armenian and the wife from Italy. Andrea comped a bottle of wine and our table enjoyed a toast, a marvelous discussion about traditions, culture, family and food – of course! Mangia we did indeed

                  We have never attended Mass at Fr Mike’s parish but we are told he used to be pastor at our current parish, before my time, and people love him. We will have to attend one of his concerts soon.

                  I am extremely concerned about Northam and the new direction the Assembly is moving towards gun owners. I have had a concealed permit from Florida for decades, Virginia and Florida have reciprocity, and due to the nature of my work and where I practice, I carry 24/7. Not sure what you as an attorney think we can do about Northam’s movements and the Virginia AG Mark Herring stating the counties that passed sanctuary resolutions will not be recognized. Considering Herring admitted to wearing “black face” in college just like Northam in medical school, I am floored at their two-faced slouching. Then again, hypocrisy is our new normal. Walter Williams wrote an excellent piece on the topic


                  In Cuba the first thing Fidel Castro did was confiscate weapons from ordinary citizens. Since I can not carry a cop with me everywhere I go, I choose to carry a weapon.

                  1. Estovir:
                    The GA is of concern but I’m told the 2nd Amendment uprising message has reached Richmond. I don’t know if it got to NoVa though so it’ll be wild. I’m going to the Jan 20 gun rights rally. Bring your friends.

                    1. mespo – I heard they are asking for more budget money to jail people who do not comply with their unConstitutional 2A demands. Virginia may turn into Trump country.

                2. mespo……….can I join your family as the cuckoo-crazy great-aunt or something so that I can sample some of that scrumptious food??!!!😊

        3. mespo, Congrats to your family. Both our kids married into down to earth families. Makes Holidays fun.

      2. Back at you, Paul. Big doings around here. No. 1 son got engaged to a wonderful woman yesterday. Had a great dinner with her family and a Christmas to remember.

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