Eulogy for Fellini

Ever since he was a kitten, Fellini loved sitting in large pasta bowls=tangledpasta.net

Ever since he was a kitten, Fellini loved sitting in large pasta bowls=tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Thirteen summers ago, in July, a month after my darling Mama’s sudden death, my sister-in-law and I were walking across the lot of the Zionsville Outdoor Market. Under the umbrella of a shady tree, a mother and her two young daughters stood over a blue laundry basket that held two kittens. One was black and white female who seemed a bit shy. The other one, a vocal male, had the markings of a Maine Coon cat. Both kittens were longhaired, with glossy coats; they had obviously been well cared for. Picking up the noisy fellow, he nestled into my arms and began purring. I inquired about the price. The mother asked only that I take good care of him and love him. I tucked the little fur ball into my woven basket, and that is how Fellini Tomasso Amadeo burst into our lives.

Fellini also liked nothing better than sitting atop a basket of clean laundry-tangledpasta.net

Fellini also liked nothing better than sitting atop a basket of clean laundry-tangledpasta.net

I have had a cat ever since I was three years old. The enigma that is a cat has always intrigued me. For thirteen years, my market kitten behaved more as a kitten than a cat. He was my feline muse. Fellini possessed the soul of a poet and the sensibility of an artist. He proved a testimony to love and affection. His almond-shaped green eyes were as expressive as those of any I have ever seen. He lifted our spirits that summer of immense loss; Fellini made my father smile at his kitten antics at a time when my Papa’s world had fallen apart. My young daughter doted on the kitten and tried to have her older cat, Sparkle, make friends with him, for both were indoor cats. Fellini roused us momentarily each day from the halo of grief that enveloped us that summer.

Fellini derived great pleasure from rolling around on the rug.-tangledpasta.net

Fellini derived great pleasure from rolling around on the rug.-tangledpasta.net

On Wednesday evening this week, Fellini raced up and down the stairs and through the house with Coco Chanel, our four-year-old cat. They played together, stalked each other, and pounced on each other, all very much as usual. Later that night, I gave Fellini his coveted bit of Greek yogurt, and then I went to bed. Fellini was in and out of my bedroom throughout the night, as he was wont to do. At 5:30 a.m. he jumped up on the bed, and settled down beside me as I rubbed his chin and tummy. About thirty minutes later, he jumped down from the bed, as usual. At some point, he wandered back into my bedroom. During his nocturnal rituals, he brought me his big, fuzzy, pink and black toy mouse. I finally rose at 7:15 a.m. Coco Chanel and my daughter’s visiting cat, Shelton Rae, came running out to the kitchen for their morning serving of Fancy Feast Primavera. When Fellini failed to appear, I called his name. He responded in repeated low moans. I located him behind the living room sofa in a place I had never before seen him. I crouched down and patted his head, yet he continued his throaty cry. He looked at me with his luminous green eyes, and I realized he could not get up, and then understood he could not walk. He dragged his limp hind feet behind him as I called for my daughter. She took over tending him while I hastily brought him water and Fancy Feast. He took only a couple of sips of water. Since Fellini’s own veterinarian does not work on Thursdays, another noted veterinary clinic had us bring him in as an emergency.

Fellini was neat and fastidious about grooming.-tangledpasta.net

Fellini was neat and fastidious about grooming.-tangledpasta.net

The veterinarian announced that Fellini had suffered a blood clot in a back artery. His temperature had now dropped to 94 degrees [normal for a cat is between 99 and 102]. She began to outline several scenarios for dealing with the clot, but first she injected him with a pain medication that helped him relax. Maine Coon cats, unfortunately, have a genetic predisposition for this particular kind of blood clot. In short, x,y, and z could be done, but the prognosis was less than promising: Another clot would likely form. Not wishing him to ungergo medical procedures when the long-term prognosis was grim, reluctantly I authorized euthanasia. She told me if he were her cat, she would do the same thing because of the gravity of his condition. Fellini raised his paw high for me, a ritual we had. I took his paw and stroked it, then gently laid it down. His paw was cold to the touch, I remarked to the vet. She said his hind feet were like ice. I kissed him on the head. Her assistant took him away for a few minutes.

Goodnight, my Sweet Cat Prince.-tangledpasta.net

Goodnight, Fellini, my Sweet Cat Prince.-tangledpasta.net

Fellini returned to us with a purple elastic bandage around his right front arm with an IV attached. The veterinarian told us to take our time with him and to press the red button on the wall when we were ready. We had been crying over our beloved Fellini throughout the time with the veterinarian. I knew he would never walk again. I could not bear seeing the pet I loved more than any other waste away or endure prolonged treatments that would come to nothing in the end. I pulled myself together, kissed him three times on the head as I did each day before I left for work, and forced myself to press the red button. She injected the narcotic into the IV opening. Crying over him, stroking him, kissing him, Fellini died within moments, peacefully staring at me.

I am heartbroken.

Ciao for now.

Horsing Around

It is fitting that the sculpture honoring Barbaro should have him racing with his feet off the ground, as he did in life. -tangledpasta.net

It is fitting that the sculpture honoring Barbaro should have him racing with his feet off the ground, as he did in life. -tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Growing up, the first Saturday in May was sacrosanct to my late Mama. For the first Saturday in May meant thundering hooves at the running of the Kentucky Derby. While we cheered on the magnificent thoroughbreds from our living room, the anticipation of which steed would win was palpable even in our corner of the Midwest. As much as my beloved Mama adored watching Saturday college football, her ardor for the Kentucky Derby was unequalled.

Mama, my brother, and I were riveted to the television screen when Secretariat galloped into Kentucky Derby history by finishing the race in 1:59 2/5, a record that remains unbroken. Secretariat went on to win the Triple Crown in 1973. I can still see that huge, red chestnut horse thundering down the 1-1/4 mile track at Churchill Downs to victory, his three white socks and white star blaze looming large in the television screen. Secretariat had an iron-like body, a drive, coupled with a presence that seemed of another world, an unequaled anomaly. My family thought Secretariat the Gold Standard of Horses, and indeed he was. He embodied hubris, and deservedly so, for he was magnificent.

The beauty of a thoroughbred's eye have always captivated me. -tangledpasta.net

The beauty of a thoroughbred’s eye have always captivated me. -tangledpasta.net

Until Barbaro appeared at the Kentucky Derby, I had not been enamored of a horse since the legendary Secretariat. However, there was something about Barbaro – the fire in his eye that was simultaneously sweet and noble – gave me pause. Barbaro won the Derby in 2006 by 6-1/2 lengths, leaving his competitors in the dust, literally. Tragically, two weeks later during the Preakness Stakes, his left hind leg shattered. He was euthanized in January 2007 due to the spread of laminitis, this after he had heroically endured at least six surgeries. The hope had been that Barbaro would live out his life tranquilly on a bucolic horse farm. After Barbaro’s death, I could not watch the Kentucky Derby. Barbaro’s heartbreaking injury and subsequent death reverberated deeply within me.

Yet today I will once again view the Kentucky Derby at 6:24 p.m., (EST), on NBC. Dortmund is the favorite, but I’ll be thinking of Secretariat and of Barbaro as I cheer today’s Derby thoroughbreds.

Ciao for now.

Italian Food Cravings

No matter which version one makes, Pasta e Fagioli is delizioso! - tangledpasta.net

No matter which version one makes, Pasta e Fagioli is delizioso! – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Lately, I have had a penchant for the traditional Southern Italian food of my parents’ preference. Talk about cheap eats: pasta, fagioli [beans], greens [endive, mustard greens, chicory], marinara sauce, ricotta, fresh mozzarella, peppers, potatoes, asparagus, eggplant, sardines, anchovies, olive oil, and eggs, all add up to fabulous meals, and none with meat. In fact, it is food I rarely tire of because it is possible to reinvent Italian dishes using these deceptively simple ingredients.

I was sixteen years old before my gustatory senses were awakened to the fact that not all pasta was drenched in a red sauce. This revelation occurred when my parents took my brother and me to Italy for the first time. In Northern Italy I at pesto for the first time, as well as green lasagna with béchamel sauce. In Tuscany I feasted on Linguine with Clams, baked fennel with potatoes and cheese; all my previous notions of Italian food underwent a catharsis. By the time we arrived in Calabria, at my father’s family’s doorstep, I was back to pasta with marinara sauce, but it tasted very good after several weeks of Northern and Tuscan cuisine.

On this Sunday afternoon, I am making a Calabrese Pasta e Fagioli [pasta and beans]. There are numerous variations on this peasant classic. It may be as thick as a stew, my personal preference, or as thin as a zuppa [soup]. Some years ago, my brother was in Manhattan on business. When he saw Pasta e Fagioli on the menu at a swanky New York restaurant, his interest was piqued. He declared the purchased version inferior to our mother’s, and it was expensive to boot. Among its shortcomings: the restaurant version was like a thin soup. In my family, we like to cut our Pasta e Fagioli with a knife, for it is as thick as can be.

Pasta e Fagioli

2 tablespoons olive oil                               2 15-oz. cans Cannellini beans, drained

I medium onion, chopped                         8 oz. ditalini, or small shells, or elbows pasta

3 garlic cloves, chopped                                        Salt and pepper to taste

1 28-oz. can Italian crushed tomatoes                Grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon Italian herbs,                                       Italian bread

or 1 teaspoon dried oregano

2 cups chicken stock, or less for a thicker consistency

Bring a large, heavy pot of water to a boil. Add a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil, and add the ditalini. Cook for 5 minutes. Drain pasta.

In a large, heavy pan, heat olive oil over medium heat, and then add onion and cook until softened, 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and cook an additional minute. Add tomatoes, oregano, and chicken stock. Cover and cook until heated through, 5-8 minutes. Add Cannellini beans and bring mixture to a simmer, approximately 10 minutes. Add ditalini, and then cook for 20 minutes to meld the flavors, and to finish cooking the ditalini. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle the Pasta e Fagioli into pasta bowls. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and Italian bread on the side. Buon Appetito!

*Variation:  Add 1 small carrot, chopped; 1 rib celery, chopped; and 1 large dried bay leaf; saute the carrot and celery in olive oil until tender, then add to the pasta e fagioli.

Ciao for now.

Easter Bread, Eggs, and Lamb

Easter Lamb Cake is a tradition in our family - tangledpasta.net

Easter Lamb Cake is a tradition in our family – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

While in a local Italian bakery this afternoon, waiting patiently as the server carefully placed several large loaves of Italian Easter bread into white boxes, we noticed the bakery hummed with activity.

“What is all of this?” one woman asked, as she waved her arm over the various shapes of Easter bread.

“Look at the colored eggs in the bread!” exclaimed another woman.

At this point, an Italian friend entered the bakery; immediately, we began speaking in Italian. The two women stared at us. He and I talked about Easter weekend, Easter food, and family.

In Italian, I asked him, “Are you going to buy that ring of Easter bread?” I gesticulated at the enormous circular bread with multiple pastel-colored hardboiled eggs.

“No, no. My wife baked Easter bread, but we did buy four loaves of Calabrese bread here on Holy Thursday,” he explained. “Did you bake Easter bread?”

I laughed. “No. That’s why we are buying two loaves. I used to make the Easter bread; instead, I roast lamb, make a Torta Pasqualina [Little Easter Torte with Swiss chard, spinach, and ricotta cheese]. I let our fine Italian bakery do the Easter bread honors!”

We wished one another a “Buona Pasqua!” Happy Easter! Had the bakery not been so busy, I might have explained to the two women the significance of the Easter bread. My daughter remarked how taken aback she had been over the women’s ignorance of Italian Easter bread. She understood that not every one is of Italian descent, but she forgets that when we are with family and Italian friends, and in Italian bakeries. The similar instance occurred several days before at Whole Foods. In that discussion I a server wondered about the significance of lamb cake among Italians. This cake is in the shape of a lamb.

Coco Chanel inspects our newly dyed Easter eggs - tangledpasta.net

Coco Chanel inspects our newly dyed Easter eggs – tangledpasta.net

In regard to Italian Easter bread, other cultures have particular kinds of Easter bread, traditionally eaten on Easter Sunday. The bread can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Bread was, and still is, a staple in these cultures. What sets Easter bread apart is that the bread is sweet. It is usually baked in the shape of a cross to symbolize the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The egg embedded in the bread is usually baked with pieces of dough in the shape of a cross. The egg used to be dyed red to symbolize the Blood of Christ, and woman’s fertility. In the Roman and Orthodox Catholic Churches, Easter is about the Resurrection of Jesus, of renewal, and a rebirth of faith. In contemporary society, we now see Italian Easter bread in the shape of an Easter basket with colored hardboiled eggs, or as braided loaves with or without eggs, or in circular loaves with eggs. The cake in the shape of a lamb symbolizes the ultimate Sacrificial Lamb, Our Lord. By the same token, the lamb cake is also synonymous with Spring, a time of re-awakening of the Earth after a long Winter.

We prefer our Italian Easter bread without hard boiled eggs embedded in the bread - tangledpasta.net

We prefer our Italian Easter bread without hard boiled eggs embedded in the bread – tangledpasta.net

We embrace our Italian Easter traditions and foods. Tonight I am roasting a leg of lamb with potatoes. The lamb is covered with rosemary and garlic placed in slits. It is then basted with white wine and butter throughout the roasting process. We will eat the lamb and potatoes with fresh asparagus. Many Italians roast lamb for Easter, as do Greeks. It is, after all, tradition!

Buona Pasqua!

Vindication

When one cannot see the forest for the trees, a new dawn eventually appears. - tangledpasta.net

When one cannot see the forest for the trees, a new dawn eventually appears. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

A blue dress. A jaunty beret. A predatory President. A starry-eyed White House intern.

Remember? The twenty-four-year-old women’s pictures appeared in newspapers, in tabloids, and on our television screens. She was vilified, pejorative labels heaped upon her. Late night talk show hosts cast aspersions in reference to her. Rappers made millions mocking her in their “music.” Through their misogynist lyrics they earned big bucks off her humiliation. Yet nowhere did I read about him being called That President, in the same way she was referred to as That Woman. No one called him a tramp, slut, or whore in the media. She had also confided in someone she thought was her friend: Linda Tripp. This “friend” recorded phone calls she had with the young intern, unbeknownst to Ms. Lewinsky. Tripp proved to be as black-hearted as Shakespeare’s Iago in Othello. The snake-like “friend’ also earned greenbacks off those calls that landed the intern in a political maelström, into a Congressional investigation.

Monica Lewinsky was a twenty-two-year-old intern when President Bill Clinton began his sexual affair with her. He was old enough to have been her father, at the very least. The word “Ick” reverberates in my head now as it did in 1998 when the story was ballyhooed around the world. When all was said and done, he remained President, and she rode off into the Land of Infamy.

What was and is still wrong with this picture?

Was she naïve about the potential consequences? Yes.

Was she vulnerable? Yes. [President of the United States equals Power; White House intern equals Subordinate]

Was her then twenty-something life ruined? Yes.

Has she rebounded? Yes.

Listen and watch Monica Lewinsky’s inspiring TED Talk. [TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design. These talks that began in 1984.]

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/22/style/monica-lewinsky-is-back-but-this-time-its-on-her-terms.html?_r=0

For any young woman or young man who has erred in matters of sex, then one can appreciate how Monica Lewinsky has risen, like a Phoenix from the ashes to address her past and present in her TED Talk. Watch, look, listen, and learn.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

Sunshine

Blue skies and sunshine equate with life is good!-tangledpasta.net

Blue skies and sunshine equate with life is good!-tangledpasta.net

This morning I awakened not only to a time change, but also to a rousing temperature of 34 degrees Fahrenheit, accompanied by sunshine.  Halleluiah!  While this may not be significant to those basking in the sunshine of the balmy South, to those of us living with UV-ray deprivation in the northern Midwest, it was like The Awakening. Yesterday afternoon, for the first time since early January, I could walk across our patio and actually see the red bricks, sans snow and ice. I tempted the Winter God by having my SUV bathed at Drive and Shine so that her body shone with its voluptuous lipstick red color like a siren beckoning Ulysseus to abandon his nautical route. Empowered by the sunshine, we postponed necessary grocery shopping until much later while we engaged in sorely needed retail therapy.

Perusing the new spring stock at Backyards, we purchased several items that screamed, “Spring hath sprung!” We then drove to Talbots, ostensibly so pay on a bill, but really to peruse the 25% off everything sale. Happily, we exited the store with a new pair of earrings each, two long-sleeved tops [one in white and one in bright blue], and socks, all of which were needed, except possibly the earrings, but who could resist the sparkle of them? Next, we stopped by Pier 1. Since my plan is to clean out our cup inventory and donate the castoffs, I was curious about freshening up my morning tea depository. Home we came with four cheery, yellow patterned mugs!

Ultimately, we bit the bullet and ventured into a grocery for the weekly trek up and down the aisles. I tore the grocery list in half, giving the other half to my daughter, who is home for part of her Spring Break. We zipped through the store in no time, and then sped off to Whole Foods for a seafood dinner. Earlier in the day we had made a lemon cake as an Ode to the Sun. Last night I tried a new recipe from my Martha Stewart One Pot cookbook. I mixed couscous, peas, olive oil, golden raisons, sliced almonds, and topped it cod, over which I placed a mixture of cumin, paprika, and coriander. Lemon was added after baking. It tasted delicious. We then dined on lemon cake as we watched the 1937 comedy, “Double Wedding”, with William Powell and Myrna Loy. Having shopped admirably, eaten well, laughed over a movie, we then slept comfortably.

Ciao for now.

A Most Unholy Tooth

 

The vegetable tagine was delicious, except that I could not eat the cauliflower and carrots-tangledpasta.net

The vegetable tagine was delicious, except that I could not eat the cauliflower and carrots. My daughter share her humus with me.-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

The Evil Tooth Fairy has been vested upon me. Had I neglected regular dental care throughout the years, I would admit that I deserved what my tooth fate of the past months, but I have not, and I do not. As the obedient patient of my darling periodontist, I followed his verbal and written instructions to the letter. Thus, the extensive oral surgery, including bone grafting, he performed has been healing nicely. Finally, ten days ago, he gave me the green light: I could partake of my evening glass of vino rosso with dinner, and eat crunchy food and something other than baked seafood.

I decided to celebrate this gustatory comeback with a juicy cheeseburger and French fries on Mardi Gras. This way, Friday abstinence throughout Lent would bother me not. How wrong I was.

Settling in the comfy green leather chair, balancing the aromatic cheeseburger, a double no less, and fries, and wine on a small tray, I began watching one of my favorite movies: The Thin Man, with William Powell and Myrna Loy. About three bites into my heavenly cheeseburger, I felt a crunch and sharp pain. At first, I deduced it was a one-off. Alas, it was not. For when I sunk my teeth into another bite, searing pain erupted. Valiantly, I forged ahead, chewing the cheeseburger and fries on the right side of my mouth, for waste not, want not, as the old adage goes. After waiting almost two months to eat a treat like this again, and imbibe my pinot noir, I refused to concede defeat.

The next day I had a scheduled teeth cleaning on Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting and abstinence. After x-rays and exploration, my dentist decreed that the tooth on the upper left side had fractured. “What?” I cried in despair. This was a tooth unsullied by a filling. Back I trekked to the periodontist, antibiotic prescription in hand. Had I not been in agonizing pain, wild horses would not have dragged me out into the snowstorm the next morning. Barely getting out of the garage and onto the side street, for no snowplow had yet passed this way. I crept along at twenty miles an hours in a whiteout, headlights on, praying the SUV stay on the road. Since the periodontist had several cancellations due to the weather, he could see me.

“That tooth is a goner. It’s got to come out. I’ll do a bone graft,” he smiled, trying to bolster my flagging spirits. “Let’s rock and roll!” he chirped. The only good news I saw in any of that morning, was that he plays Adele, Taylor Swift, and Death Cab for Cutie over the sound system.]

It was déjà vu. So far, 2015 had gotten off to a rocky start in my world.

He came at me with That Needle, the one that reminded me of the one used on me for amniocentesis when I was with child. This was followed by three more injections, albeit with smaller needles. Ironically, Taylor Swift was singing, “Shake It Off” on the radio at that moment, and I tried to do just that. It failed to work.

The bright spot on the horizon was yesterday. I felt better. It was above zero and not snowing so that I could travel out-of-town and visit my daughter in between her trial advocacy practices and brief writings. We laughed as we ate warm dolmades and thinly sliced red beets at our favorite Middle Eastern bistro. We celebrated a belated Valentine’s Day with small gifts and chocolate cupcakes. Spending an afternoon with my daughter made me feel better.

Today, as I gaze out the window at the falling snow, I tell myself it could be worse. It looks like I am forsaking vino rosso and meat for Lent, I can feast on crab cakes. Mea culpa.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

 

 

Thwarted Valentine

Like the kitten, I watched Valentine's Day float away from me. - tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

After battling two vile flues, one in January and one in February, and extensive dental surgery, I was looking forward to a celebratory Valentine’s Day with my daughter. Yes, the weather had been getting gradually colder. Yes, the forecast predicted more snow, but how much do we believe the meteorologists say since they are often wrong, at least the local ones are. My mantra to Anjelica was, “Stick to the plan!” The plan entailed dining at our favorite Mediterranean bistro in her college town, shopping at our preferred downtown boutiques, and having a decadent champagne cupcake and macaroon while we opened each other’s Valentines.

Well, Winter Storm Neptune 2015 knocked the wind of our sails. The nautical metaphor seems appropriate to refer to a snowstorm named after Neptune, the God of the Sea, according to the Romans. I would like to fling a fake flounder at this snowstorm [This an alliteration kind of day]. Yet I feel certain those blizzard weary-New Englanders might share my sentiments. Now the county police have told us to stay off the roads unless of an emergency. Road crews have ceased trying to plow the snow due to white out conditions. I keep telling myself it could be worse right now: I could live in Boston this winter.

To assuage my thwarted Valentine’s Day, I decided to bake a box mix strawberry cake. At least the cake would be pink and satisfy my sudden sweet urge. While talking on the phone, I assembled and mixed the cake. Thirty minutes later, I removed the cake from the oven. “Hmm,” I said to Fellini and Coco Chanel, our indoor cats, “something is amiss with this cake.” Glancing at the counter, I saw three eggs. “Egad!” I cried. “I forgot to mix in the eggs!” This error offered me several lessons: First, do not attempt to multitask by conversing on the phone while baking; next, review the list of ingredients to circumvent the omission of critical ones, like eggs; and finally, I contrived to convince myself without the eggs it was a sort of pseudo-strawberry vegan cake that did not taste too terrible.

At least the flowers I sent Anjelica arrived yesterday, and she is with pleased with them. Her cat, Shelton Rae, is content as only a cat can be: He has been using the flowerbox as a bed. The pretty Valentine card with the heartfelt note Anjelica sent me made me glow with happiness. She is able to dine on the pink champagne cupcake and macaroons today, while I eat my not fully developed strawberry cake. Although I miss her delightful company on this frosty, wind-howling, subzero Valentine’s Day, I take heart in the fact that we have agreed to celebrate next weekend. Celebrate we will, assuming another blasted snowstorm leaves us in peace.

I have begun exploring real estate in warmer regions of the country.

Ciao for now.

Congratulations, Jimmy!

Making a point at the end of the line is not to be taken lightly.-tangledpasta.net

Making a point at the end of the line is not to be taken lightly.-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

For some weeks I had been happily anticipating attending my cousin Jimmy’s retirement party. His amazing wife sent one of the most creative invitations I had ever seen: A brown-tone rectangular card with a train engine roaring toward the reader. The back of the card made me smile too, for it was the caboose of said train traveling into the distance, leaving in its wake all sorts of train tracks veering in different directions. Speaking of the caboose, I always wondered why the trains did away with the caboose. It always seemed like the exclamation point at the end of the train, a moment to wave as the train roared on to its destination. The overarching aesthetic behind this most eclectic of invitations was, in fact, Jimmy’s retirement from the Norfolk Suffolk Railroad after 42 years of fantastic work.

Jimmy went to work “on the rails” when he was 18 years old. It seemed wildly romantic to me to think of him as he traveled the country on a train. Of course, I had been reading a lot of Agatha Christie at that time, and Murder on the Orient Express, one of my favorites, beckoned me to travel by rail. Ultimately, I became familiar with European trains during my years of traveling back and forth to Europe. As far as train travel went in this country, I really could count only the South Shore electric train that I would board to go into Chicago. While Jimmy’s climb up the railroad ladder, both on the trains and in the corporate train sector became second nature to him, I harbor the notion that to have worked 42 years with the trains means he must have genuinely loved his work. I do not believe anyone knows the ins and outs of the railroad business like Jimmy does.

Jimmy has three brothers and three sisters, in-laws, and lots of nieces and nephews. He and his family are grand, and I love them all, for I know too that Jimmy is good to us all.  The fact that they are converging tonight to celebrate Jimmy makes me smile. How I wish I could join them! Sadly, I had to have emergency oral surgery on both sides of my mouth last week. The periodontics and implant specialist said by May or June all should be well. I’ve been on large amounts of prescription medication, and can eat only soft foods and liquids. No alcohol, no spicy foods, no crunchy foods, no salty foods, and no hard foods – the list seems endless. The silver lining is that all of my clothes fit better, and I am becoming a smoothie-making expert of sorts. Aside from the food limitations are the speaking constrictions that I had not anticipated. My mouth aches after prolonged conversations. My pronunciation is carefully articulated because I know I have trouble articulating ‘s’, which made for an interesting class I taught on phonetics this past week. Since I am from a family of great talkers, we all have the “gift of gab”, as my dear late mama used to say, it would be arduous at best to not be able to converse at length with my relatives tonight, pain factor aside.

Returning to the man of the moment, Jimmy is a person of varied interests, most of which have to do with motion. He pursues an avid interest in sports cars, particularly those of a vintage variety. Motorcycles continually offer him the promise of the open road [very Jack Kerouac]. Vacationing at his family’s Florida headquarters gives him continuing opportunities for boating. He is a man in motion, though I have seen photos of Jimmy lounging in his picturesque backyard simply enjoying being in the moment. Another of his talents is digitally remastering old Christmas songs, putting them on CD’s, and giving them to us as Christmas presents.  Throughout the years, I have acquired a fine collection of Jimmy’s CD’s, which always ring in Christmas cheer.  He is a wizard at all he does. His many talents continually impress me.

All I can do is raise my strawberry, banana, mango, Greek yogurt, soy protein powder smoothie to my dear cousin Jimmy tonight in my home, and toast him with a hearty, “Well done, Cousin! You leave an impressive legacy and lesson to us all: Find something you love, and go for it! Congratulations, Jimmy! I am with you in spirit tonight with love. You really are the exclamation point at the end of the train!”

Ciao for now.

 

The Perfect Gift

Classic movies count among my favorites. - tangledpasta.net

Classic movies count among my favorites. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Prior to Christmas vacation, I endeavored to find a unique family gift for us. A Eureka Moment manifested itself as I rifled through our collection of DVDs. In haste, I ordered the recently released The Complete Thin Man Collection. The collection consists of seven DVDs, six of which are titled “The Thin Man”; “After the Thin Man”; “Another Thin Man”; “Shadow of the Thin Man”; “The Thin Man Goes Home”; and “Song of the Thin Man”. The seventh is “Alias Nick and Nora”, a documentary of “Thin Man” stars William Powell and Myrna Loy. The Complete Thin Man Collection proved a Christmas hit with my daugher!

While we did not watch all of our favorite Holiday movies this year, we did view all “Thin Man” movies in order of their release. The movies were made over a period of years, beginning in 1934, with the last in 1947. Filmed during The Great Depression, and then World War II, the strength of these films endure today for, I believe, an overarching reason: They are incredibly good. The sexy, witty repartee between the characters of Nick and Nora Charles is irresistible. Based on Dashielll Hammett’s novel The Thin Man, Nick and Nora are supposedly modeled on Hammett and his long-time lover Lillian Hellman. One can only imagine the conversations between these two great writers, but we are able to savor a bit of the flavor of it through Nick and Nora Charles’ erudite exchanges. My daughter found it hilarious that the married couple slept in separate twin beds in each movie, yet alcohol flowed freely, as did hangovers, throughout the six films. My take on it is that with the Twenty-First Amendment heralded an end to Prohibition in December 1933, and “The Thin Man” movies reflected a cultural reaction of the legal flow of alcohol. Nick Charles, former private investigator, married into wealth with San Francisco socialite Nora. Like Dashiell Hammett’s novel, “The Thin Man” movie was wildly popular. Dapper, cool-headed Nick and intelligent, beautiful, sassy Nora portrayed a new kind of relationship: One in which there was a true partnership, based on mutual respect and love, all of which comes across magnificently on the silver screen. Even Asta the dog, is an integral member of the Charles’ family. Asta accompanies Nick on dangerous sleuthing that keeps drawing him in its snare.

Since Dashiell Hammett died on January 10, 1961, it seems fitting to watch his movies again this month. While he wrote the stories “After the Thin Man” and “Shadow of the Thin Man”, he did not write their screenplays, but the films bear Hammett’s signature detective writing mark. Maybe Hammett’s own work experience with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency echoed in “The Thin Man” films since his fictional protagonist Nick Charles had worked for Pinkerton’s. Nora’s fashions, and elegant and breathtaking they are, seem au currant today, as does Nick’s classy suits and tuxedos. I love these black and white cinematic wonders that exude sophistication and charm. Compared to much of what is churned out in today’s underwhelming movies, it is small wonder that I turn to Nick and Nora Charles to see how movies could be sophisticated, articulate, coherent, and simply entertaining, thanks to the superb pairing of William Powell and Myrna Loy in fourteen films, including the six “Thin Man” films. On this cold winter night, I think I’ll pour myself a glass of wine and watch the first “Thin Man” movie.

Ciao for now.