Going Home

Back row:  My mother Kitty, her sister-in-law Wilma. Front row:  My Aunts Agnes and Adelaide

Back row: My mama Kitty, her sister-in-law Wilma. Front row: My Aunts Agnes and Adelaide – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Growing up, all I could think about was how to get out of Indiana.  Filled with Big City dreams of the pulse of a city that never sleeps, that offers superb music and theater, intoxicated me.  Having traveled frequently to Italy,  not trekking each time to my father’s Southern Italian village, I lost my heart to Firenze, Roma, and even Amalfi.  My Italian was good; I felt comfortable among central and northern Italians.  In my hearts of hearts, I knew I would one day live more than just several months at a time in Italy.

That pesky thing called work interfered, yet I was undeterred.  I’d work, save, and buy another plane ticket back to Italy.  This was easier once I’d moved to Houston.  Airline bargains abounded from Houston to Italy during the 1970’s and 80’s, and I took advantage of low-cost flights on Icelandic Air.  Taking the train Luxembourg, through the Alps, and arriving in Milano or Roma made me one happy traveler.  In the back of my mind, I figured I would relocate to Chicago, and eventually live in Italy, somehow, some day.

Lake Michigan Dunes, Indiana - tangledpasta.net

Lake Michigan Dunes, Indiana – tangledpasta.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life has a funny way of throwing one curves.  Mine weren’t all that bad.  I married, had a child, divorced, and in between these milestones, I moved back to my hometown in The Heartland.  It wasn’t my idea, not by a long shot.  It was my ex-husband’s.  The first two years all I could think about was getting out, much like when I was a young adolescent yearning for environs beyond those of Indiana.  Gradually I reconnected with family beyond my immediate one.  Teaching again in higher education satisfied me.  The most unexpected reward though was in observing how much my parents and daughter loved one another, how much joy they brought to one another’s lives, and how I finally realized that home truly is where the heart is.  Since the beat of my heart was all about my daughter, I realized that we could travel together.  And we have, both here and abroad.  I revel in having an anchor to call home with family and good friends to fill it and share it with us.  It took many years, but I can say with a smile, it’s been good to be Back Home in Indiana.

East Pier Light at twilight, Michigan City, IN - tangledpasta.net

East Pier Light at twilight, Michigan City, IN – tangledpasta.net

Ciao for now.

Salvatore Ferragamo, Where Art Thou?

The iconic 'Vara' shoes - tangledpasta.net

The iconic ‘Vara’ shoes – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

  Entre nous:  I have a secret harbored inside of me.  The scent of leather ignites a fire within my being.  The lush, smooth feel of vero cuoio makes the hair on my neck spring to attention.  The leather-lined interior of a handcrafted sculpted Italian shoe makes my heart skip a beat.  The sensuous feeling of a luxurious Italian leather shoe wrapped under, around, and over my feet satisfies a primal cry inside my soul.  For the truth of the matter is, it offends my sense of aesthete to don a pair of non-leather shoes, except, of course, when walking on a beach, or skipping through sand.

My father nurtured my affinity for all shoes leather at an early age.  He had learned the art of shoemaking and repair at the age of ten when he was apprenticed to a master shoemaker in his village in Italy.  He railed against “those-a cheap-a junk-a shoes” made of plastic “manmade” materials.  He worked only with the finest leather.  As a result, I have worn leather shoes from infancy on, knowing that leather lining helps feet  breathe, whereas synthetic lining promotes foot sweat.

Next weekend my niece is getting married.  For months I have searched for leather shoes to complement dresses purchased for The Wedding weekend.  Having bought  beautiful nude leather shoes [leather lined, naturally], I was on the prowl for black patent leather shoes.  After months of exhaustive searching, I finally decided to shell out the big bucks for a pair of Salvatore Ferragamo ‘Vara’ pumps. Pre-pregnancy, my foot size was a 9½ medium.  Life was good.  Post-childbirth, my foot morphed into a 9¾ wide.  Life became hellish.  I had moved from Houston back to smaller town living in The Heartland where the nearest Nordstrom is 2 ¾ hours away.  Thus, I began shoe life anew through online ordering.  My feet have been caressed well by my Sesto Meucci and Attiliio Giusti Leombruni footwear.

Having read the shoes’ reviews, I noted several complaints that these Ferragamos lacked the perfect fit of yore. After discussion with the designer customer service representative, I felt confident, took the plunge, and spent $425 for the shoes.  Within 48 hours, my exquisite Ferragamo shoes arrived.  As I carefully unwrapped them, I inhaled the essence of the leather interior.  I reached for my trusty shoehorn, a vestige of when my father was alive and still working in his shoe shop.

Carefully I slid my foot into the black beauty. My little toe was cramped against the side of the toe box.  I wedged my ankle into the back of the shoe.  It felt like a tourniquet had been applied.  The left shoe had a similar, albeit less painful, effect.

As I gazed upon the Ferragamo beauties, I realized each shoe was the equivalent cost of one night at the upscale hotel for The Wedding.  I returned the Salvatore Ferragamo shoes, and ordered a non-Ferragamo pair of black leather, leather-lined shoes.  I learned long ago that comfort and style in leather footwear is critical to healthy, happy feet.

Ciao for now.

 

Buona Pasqua, Ancora

Cugina Chrissy's limoncello and chocolate raspberry-chocolate chip cakes - tangledpasta.net

Cugina Chrissy’s limoncello and chocolate raspberry-chocolate chip cakes – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Easter Sunday dawned auspiciously today:  The sky was gray and overcast.  As I was leaving for Church, rain began to puddle on the patio.  Since I had scheduled the 9:30 a.m. Mass on Easter Sunday in memory of my parents, Catherine “Kitty” and Frank, I realized I neglected to negotiate with the meteorologist for sunshine.  Yet halfway through Easter Mass, the sun shone, filtering through the Church’s stained glass windows.  It was a glorious omen for Easter.

My cugina [cousin] Marianne [yes, we Italians like to continuously recycle family names, which is why three-fourths of Italian women have the same first names, as do the men], invited me over for an Easter breakfast with her family.  Her father, my uncle and Godfather, is ninety-four years young, and, as our family patriarch, happily presided over my cousin’s light-as-air Belgian waffles [we Italians in the Heartland are multicultural in culinary spirit as well as ecumenical], crispy center-cut bacon, and her daughter’s delicious once-over-easy eggs.   Her husband Steve poured us shots of Amaretto di Saranno, which I poured into my coffee, thereby punching up my cup of Joe.

I was touched by my cugina’s Easter Breakfast invitation because sitting down with family reminded me of Easter Sunday breakfasts after Mass with my family.  When I was away at college, unable to get home for Easter, my mother made a point of sending me an Easter basket filled with malted milk balls, foil-wrapped chocolate eggs, a large chocolate bunny, jelly beans and decorated eggs.  This year, I too filled my daughter’s furry, musical, ear-flapping rabbit Easter basket with treats and mailed it to her.   It is a worthy family tradition; it even received the Easter Bunny Seal of Approval.

My uncle’s family convened again late this afternoon for Easter dinner at his granddaughter Chrissy’s home.  My cousin follows in the family tradition of fine cooks.  She whipped up enough food to feed the Italian army:  Baked ham, potatoes, corn, green beans, and her mother prepared Italian sausage in a tomato-onion sauce for sandwiches replete with crusty Italian bread.  To top it off, dessert was limoncello cake and a chocolate-raspberry-chocolate chip cake confection.  Naturally, we imbibed vino bianco and vino rosso.  My contribution was an Italian Easter bread in the shape of a crucifix, and a bottle of hearty Chianti.

Tomorrow I am fasting. Alleluia!

Ciao for now.

 

Friend Lost, and Friend Found

Circo dinnerware, Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas - tangledpasta.net

Circo Ristorante dinnerware, Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas – tangledpasta.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A fringe benefit of the power of social media is how it permeates the fabric of our world.  Ever since I began this blog in June 2012, I have had a relative in Italy whom I had not seen in years contact me; a former French graduate school colleague who lives in France asked if I were this person [she introduced me to Gitanes, upon which I nearly choked to death], and several other with whom I had lost touch.

However, last weekend, a reader left me a comment inquiring if I was indeed her former undergraduate college roommate, the one who was a bridesmaid in her wedding.  Those who know me well know that I am rarely speechless, but when Jackie contacted me, I was at a loss for words.  Fast and furiously we sent messages back and forth.  We had over 30 years of our lives to share with each other.  We agreed to talk via phone on Thursday evening at a well-appointed hour.

Three-and-a-half hours later that night, we still had not caught up completely.  Next week we will converse again.  We have plans to meet face to face after we scrutinize our work and family schedules.  For the past days, I have been euphoric about our social media and phone reunion, for we had great times together in college.   Although she pursued health sciences, and I English and later music, our personalities and sense of humor meshed.  As the years rolled by, I wondered off and on about Jackie.  I thought of her living in Lexington, Kentucky, in the fabled Blue Grass state.  She now is back home again in Indiana.  Searches for me were in vain.  For years I had carried a 15-letter married surname; I legally reclaimed my name several years ago.  And so it went as we canvassed the landscapes of our lives since the late 1970’s.  Jackie would not have known that about me.

Once we commenced talking, the years melted away.  She was Jackie:  Spirited, funny, compassionate, and brilliant.  Her overriding question was, “How did we ever lose touch with one another?”  I think I have the answer:  Our lives at some point did not diverge; rather they digressed.  She had married and started a family.  I returned to the university to pursue a music degree, travel back and forth to Europe, earn a graduate degree, and relocate for years to Houston.

In retrospect, I was careless about our friendship what with my hop, skip, and jump lifestyle.  I thought about other friendships that have fallen by the wayside over the years.  Some friendships simply ran their course; others were consumed by complicated lives.   However, I have been given a tremendous gift through this blog:  The gift of renewing a cherished friendship with Jackie.

I have learned to mend my errant friendship ways.

Ciao for now.

Decades

Envelope containing a birthday card to me from my darling daughter  - tangledpasta.net

Envelope containing a birthday card to me from my darling daughter – tangledpasta.net

For almost two months I grappled with the fact that I was facing another one of “those” birthdays.  I mean the kind of birthday that kicks off a new decade in one’s life, in this case, in my life.

When I turned eighteen, I was wild to turn twenty.  Nineteen felt like a mere holding pattern until I reached the magical age of twenty, thus jump starting my so-called life.  Or so I thought.  The twenties were filled with advanced degree pursuits and travel abroad, mostly to Italy and to Greece.  Actually, that decade was quite grand in its own way.

My decade spent in my thirties consisted of still living in Houston, marriage, relocating to the Midwest, motherhood, adjustment, and separation [in the marriage].  It was a decade of incredible highs [motherhood] and crashing lows [the demise of a marriage].

The decade of my forties saw me focused on rebuilding my life professionally, while simultaneously creating a secure, joyful life for my child.  There was the renewal of love with a former flame, and happiness loomed large on the horizon.  As the decade drew to a close, I became edgy about commencing a new decade in my life.  I still saw myself as the starry-eyed twenty-four-year-old with unending Italian spirit, alive with endless possibilities and vigor.  Everything came to a screeching halt when my beloved Mama suffered a massive stroke and died five months before my birthday.

I ceased worrying about “What if” and began asking “Why not?” when it came to each birthday.   As my dear Mama was fond of observing, “Consider the alternative.” I choose life.

Ciao for now.

Viva Las Vegas! Part III: Bellissima Bellagio

Bridge

Bellagio Gardens
Bellagio Gardens (Photo credit: Ben Adamson)

Bellagio Gardens

Bellagio Gardens (Photo credit: Ben Adamson)

Hall Bellagio - Las Vegas

Hall Bellagio – Las Vegas (Photo credit: Eduardo Mateos)

It seemed that I was the last person with whom I was acquainted who had never set foot in Las Vegas, or even in the State of Nevada for that matter.  Over the years, various aunts, uncles, cousins, even my own mother had traveled multiple times to Las Vegas.  For me, it had held little appeal.

When it came time to give serious consideration to where and how to celebrate Anjelica’s 21st birthday, we each had several ideas:  Dublin, Ireland; London, England; San Francisco, California; and Las Vegas.  Since Anjelica had been in London a little over a year ago, and with the Summer Olympics looming, and Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations just over, we nixed London.  Tony Bennett might have left his heart in San Francisco, but the the Golden Gate Bridge would have to wait another year or so for us to converge.  Since we might journey to Copenhagen, Denmark over Thanksgiving this November, we ruled out Dublin and overseas travel this summer.  Finally, we gravitated toward Las Vegas.

After well-placed phone calls with our friend, Mary the Italian Travel Agent Extraordinaire, we landed at The Bellagio.  Unlike Tony Bennett [another Italian whose given name is Antonio Benedetto], I lost my heart to The Bellagio.  The first stunner is the ceiling of the enormous foyer:  The ceiling is covered with Dale Chihuly’s colorful glass artwork.  In case one is interested in purchasing a piece or two or three of Chihuly’s art glass, there is a Chihuly shop conveniently located in the Botanical Gardens of The Bellagio.  My daughter, the journalism and classical studies major, snapped photo after photo of Chihuly’s glass.

In fact, both of our iPhones had workouts because Bellagio’s floors mesmerized me.  Various inlaid marble designs were lavished throughout the hotel, primarily on the first floor, which is vast.  We cared little about how much we ate because we walked miles throughout The Bellagio each day, my eyes riveted to the intricate mosaic tile designs.  I had not seen anything so beautiful since I lived for several months in Vietri Sul Mare, Italy, home of multiple ceramic fabbricas.

My idea of Las Vegas wedding chapels had been formed by movies and television shows.  Ergo, I figured them to be sleazy and low-life.  How wrong I was:  The Bellagio had several wedding chapels that exuded sophistication.  We even glimpsed a bride in a lovely long white gown.

The primary swimming pool reminded us a bit of the Borghese Gardens in Rome, Italy, although I gather that The Bellagio’s pool emulates the one at San Simeon in California.   The mosaic design on the floor of the pool brought on waves of nostalgia for swimming in Amalfi, Italy, as I used to do.  Attractive cabanas around the pool reminded me of those along the beach of Sorrento, Italy.

All was palatial at The Bellagio, yet tastefully so, from the foyer to the swimming pool to the art museum to the restaurants to Cirque Du Soleil’s O show, and even to the casino.  Bellissima Bellagio!

Ciao for now.

Viva Las Vegas! Part I

The Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.

The Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Fountains of Bellagio as seen from the Par...

The Fountains of Bellagio as seen from the Paris Las Vegas hotel, across the Strip from the Bellagio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now that the jet lag has subsided, the suitcases have been unpacked, and the groceries replenished, we turn our attention to bringing our voyage into a coherent perspective.

We celebrated my daughter’s 21st birthday in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is three hours behind our Heartland time zone; hence, the jet lag.  Her Fourth of July birthday this year was celebrated in grand style during our stay at The Bellagio Hotel.  For years I assiduously had avoided Las Vegas:  It seemed too glitzy and too cheesy for my elevated taste.  Furthermore, I am not a gambling woman, at least not with the color of my own money.  Initially, ringing in her 21st birthday in Dublin, Ireland seemed feasible.  The only problem with that idea was that the Irish do not celebrate our Fourth of July.  In the end, a particular performer proved to be the main draw for my daughter; consequently, to the Land of Las Vegas we schlepped.

Once we settled on Las Vegas as a Fourth of July birthday venue, the decision of where to stay reared its head.  Having already been to Venice, Italy five times, the idea of a reduced replica of the Grand Canal held little appeal.  Having shopped on the Veneto in the aforementioned real Venice, the Venetian shops in Las Vegas’ Venetian were not our cup of cappuccino.  Having been to Paris, France and its Eiffel Tower, Las Vegas’ Paris with its reduced sized Eiffel Tower replica was less than appealing, although our 16th floor Lake View room at The Bellagio was situated directly across from The Paris and its Eiffel Tower whose night lights provided a lovely backdrop to The Bellagio’s gorgeous Fountains and accompanying music.

Like a guilty pleasure, my ardor swelled:  I fell for Las Vegas, or, more to the point, I fell for The Bellagio.  Its Art Museum had an exhibit of Monet paintings on loan from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  Bellagio’s Art Museum was a jewel of a place tucked off the beaten path of the casino, away from the exotic swimming pool, and never ending foot traffic.  The Monet paintings were stunning, as only Monet’s artwork can be.  After consulting with my favorite travel agent, an Italian friend named Mary, we decided upon The Bellagio over The Venetian.  The deal breaker for me was The Bellagio’s art.  Where else could we dine exquisitely in Las Vegas surrounded by Picasso’s artwork, other than at Bellagio’s Picasso restaurant?   Reluctantly, we finally had to leave the Bellagio, its fine dining, magnificent fountains, and hospitable staff.  We will someday return to partake of its delights again.

Ciao for now.