Dreams of Daiquiris

 An elegant, classic daiquiri wafts around the senses, aching to quench one’s thirst. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

 By Mary Anna Violi | MaryAnnaVioli

I have been aware of the late Ernest Hemingway’s capacious fondness for liqueur. He boasted of his tolerance for it, and even wrote about it in his novels and short stories. What I did not know about was his proclivity for the daiquiri, particularly the special one mixed for him at El Floridita in Havana, Cuba. Acknowledged as the best cocktail mixologist in Havana was Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, the revered bartender at El Floridita. Nicknamed Constante, he conceived of a daiquiri for Hemingway that he christened the Papa Doble. Hemingway liked to be called Papa, which I always thought was a bit disturbing.

Merely reading about the Papa Doble Daiquiri made me thirsty! Constante crafted Hemingway’s cocktail this way: “For the Papa Doble, he added grapefruit juice and a few drops of maraschino liqueur to two jiggers of light rum and the juice of a fresh lime.” Perhaps I am dreaming of a daiquiri because the days now wax warm, tinged with humidity. A cold, crafted daiquiri could quench my thirst, much as it did Hemingway in the blistering Havana heat. Daiquiris appeal to me when the sultry summer air envelops me. I imagine Hemingway in 1940’s Havana riding in a blue convertible down the dusty back roads with his third wife, Martha Gellhorn, who was a world-famous journalist, on their way to his villa, Finca Vigia.

I also imagine Desi Arnaz rhythmically pounding away on his bongo drum in a Tropicana nightclub in Havana. Although Arnaz emigrated from Cuba after Batista overthrew the government in 1933, I still imagine him in colorful Cuba swaying to his seductive Latin music beat. El Floridita, master bartender Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, Ernest Hemingway, the pulsating rhythm of Latin music, and Havana all present in the ubiquitous, icy daiquiri of yesterday and of today.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Brontes: To Walk Invisible

Anne, Emily, Branwell, and Charlotte Bronte in a painting by Branwell around 1834.  He later painted himself out of the portrait. www. tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

On March 26, 2017, PBS broadcast the film To Walk Invisible The Bronte Sisters. I found this title curious since the film devoted a great deal of time to Branwell Bronte, the sisters’ only brother. Branwell cast a shadow over the lives of his family for multiple reasons: he was the only male heir; he was as talented as his sisters; and he was an alcoholic and drug addict. That the Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were superbly gifted writers goes without saying. However, Branwell remained the unrealized talent.

For my Senior Seminar as an English major at Indiana University Bloomington in the 1970’s, I was fortunate to have been accepted into the seminar, “The Brontes,” spearheaded by Professor Susan Gubar. We read everything, and I do mean everything, poems, novels, and unfinished manuscripts, written by The Brontes, including Branwell. Jane Eyre’s pluck and compassion; Heathcliff’s virility and vulnerability, Helen Graham’s defiance and liberation thrilled me no end. Yet Branwell’s dissolute living seemed to me to stem from a sense of fear and sense of inferiority. He certainly could have applied to study art in London, but he shrunk from what? The competition? His possible lack of great talent? Whatever his demons, Branwell squandered his money on drink, and then returned to his father’s home at Haworth Parsonage in Yorkshire, England. He painted portraits, worked on translations of the classics such as Homer, and composed poetry.

I found Branwell intriguing. I mused about what his life must have been like with the intellect and writing grandeur of Charlotte, Emily, and Anne under the same roof. His sisters elected not to reveal to him the success of their novels, Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, Emily’s Wuthering Heights, and Anne’s Agnes Grey because they feared upsetting him. Clearly Branwell turned out to be a disappointment, having thwarted his own considerable talents, and having engaged in a liaison with his employer’s wife, Lydia Robinson, which resulted in another loss of a job. Branwell’s behavior worsens as To Walk Invisible progresses, as it did in reality. The continual havoc he inflicted upon himself and upon his family becomes increasingly hard to watch. His death serves as a relief that put him out of his addictive thrashing and raving, opium as the drug of choice and the alcohol. All I could think of was what I pondered in my Senior Seminar class on The Brontes all those years ago: such tormented talent cast aside. I even wrote my lengthy Seminar paper on Branwell. To Walk Invisible rekindled my interest in Branwell, in spite of his demons.

Ciao for now.

 

Farewell, Ringling Brothers Circus

The magic of Ringling Brothers Big Top is now silenced and I am sad.-www.tangledpasta.net

 By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

I love the circus. As a child, I reveled in the acrobats, the horseback riders, the elephants, but most of all I cherished the big cats. No doubt this stemmed from my acute fondness for cats. At the age of three, my parents let me select my first kitten from a litter a late uncle had. I named my sweet Tabby cat Kitty Carbon; I cannot explain why, but it made sense to me in my three-year-old head. From then on, I embraced felines of any size. The first time I saw a live circus show, I fell for the lions and tigers. Those cats exuded a royal, regal air from every hair of their glossy coats of fur. Throughout my life I have had cats in it, and I still do. I am attuned to their nuances, as Alexander Lacey of Ringling Brothers Circus is to the lions and tigers he has raised since birth. Lacey is moving with his lions and tigers to Germany where he will continue breeding them.

This weekend marks the last of the live performances of the storied Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus, founded by P.T. Barnum in 1871. The grand circus must take its final bows in Washington, D.C. this weekend. Dwindling ticket sales over the last years, and the howling of purported animal rights activists have taken a toll, as have the competition from video and media entertainment. I am very pro-animals; however, the placard carrying “animal rights activists” rankles me. They are anti-circus, anti-zoo, yet I haven’t heard them rail against caging dogs while their owners work all day. I would like to point out that zoos do a great deal of good in the research and breeding of endangered species, like Steve Irwin’s Australia Zoo in Australia. Siegfried and Roy, too, have done much throughout the years to raise awareness of white tigers and white lions. Circuses of the ilk of Ringling Brothers of their own animals, but aid those beyond the realm of circus tents, but aid those beyond the realm of circus tents. The elephants of Ringling Brothers performed their last show a year ago; they now live in Ringling Brothers 200 acre Elephant Retirement Sanctuary in Florida. The research going on there is amazing such as why elephants do not get cancer.

The magic of Ringling Brothers Circus held me enthralled for years. All of the performances have been live events, minus stunt doubles. The artists who perform constantly hone their craft. Most of them are generational performers; it’s in their blood. They began training from the time they were tykes, most learning at the foot of their parents. Granted there are smaller circuses in operation in the U.S., but not on the scale of Ringling Brothers. Cirque du Soleil’s “O” show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas had the same effect on me as Ringling Brothers, but with no animals involved. The rarefied grandeur of Ringling Brothers, its performers and its animals are not likely to be seen again. And that is a tragedy.

Ciao for now.

Houston, Part 4

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I purchased this “Don’t Mess With Texas!” pillow at Buc-ee’s. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

   Although we knew we would have to soon leave Houston and our friends, I felt compelled to share a new phenomenon, to me at least, called Buc-ee’s. My friend Juliet rhapsodized about the wonders of Buc-ee’s. With her hearty endorsement of it, we stopped at the one located between Galveston and Houston on the Gulf Freeway, IH 45 South, near Texas City. The Houston Chronicle’s article, “25 amazing things you probably didn’t know about Buc-ee’s”, by Craig Hlavaty, on March 10, 2016, enlightened me further about the wonder that is Buc-ee’s, lengthy queue of gasoline pumps, or fueling stations, of which there must have been about 80 (the Buc-ee’s in New Braunfels, Texas has 120), initially caught my eye. A sign read “No eighteen wheelers allowed” and this made for a unique visit. The mammoth “convenience store” itself spanned somewhere in the vicinity of 55,000 to 80,000 square feet. This is what I love about Texas: everything is bigger and better. Having lived in Houston for 10 years, I can attest to this! I never saw as much jerky as I did at Buc-ee’s: beef, duck, turkey, you name it, they had it in the cleanest deli area I have ever seen. The Texas Round Up sandwich area one could purchase pulled pork, brisket, sausage, and turkey sandwiches. Salads were sold in the deli area too. In fact, the entire enterprise was as sparkling clean as could be.

Which brings me to the subject of restrooms. Buc-ee’s has even won the “Best Restroom in America” award from Cintas. I made use of the facilities and was impressed! Not only was the tile work impressive, but also each stall had a hand sanitizer dispenser! The restrooms are cleaned every hour. They were spic and span! Wandering through the wide aisles of food, clothing, candy, deli offerings, coffee café, and gift items provided delight and amazement. Buc-ee’s is an oasis on the highways and byways of Texas, and one not to be missed.

Tuesday morning dawned all too soon. With heavy hearts we said our goodbye to our dear Houston friends. As we left the sun, warmth, and friends, and boarded our Southwest Airlines flight to Chicago, we knew we would relive our wonderful week in Houston many times over in the days to come.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

Houston, Part 3

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River Oaks is a beautiful, storied area of Houston. Flowers and trees abounded for our Spring hungry eyes! – http://www.tangledpasta.net

IMG_5391 Galveston, Texas, where we stood and watched people, seagulls, and tankers. http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

On Sunday, the day after The Wedding, Juliet, Anjelica and I headed to Galveston. Again blue skies and Texas sunshine smiled upon us. We parked the car and walked around an area overlooking a quiet beach, further away from the Spring Break mob near the bustling thoroughfare. At this quieter locale with its rocky seawall opening onto a sandy beach, we listened to the lapping water, inhaled the salty air, and watched slow-moving tankers further offshore in the bay. We then commenced on a driving tour to get our bearings. Galveston had enjoyed a great construction spurt; colorful condos and clever named eateries had proliferated since my years of living in Houston. My friends and I used to hop in my car and head for a day in Galveston to escape the noise and rabble of Houston. One Christmas time, we descended upon The Bishop’s Palace . Its decorations were legendary and so they were.

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Vibrant colored condos line several blocks along Seawall Boulevard, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. http://www.tangledpasta.net

We trolled a picturesque part of the city in search of an appealing, open restaurant. Several we honed in on turned out to be closed on Sundays. Observing people on the sidewalks, we opted to park the car and conduct a food search on foot on a tree-laced side street. A charming corner café offering authentic Mexican fare beckoned. By this time our hunger pangs had increased, even as we enjoyed the pretty street with plenty of palm trees waving in the gentle breeze. The warm, homemade chips and tangy red salsa and a green salsa proved hard to resist as we examined the menu. Finally, we placed our order: grouper tacos for Anjelica, a chicken quesadilla for Juliet, and a shrimp taco salad for me. Delicious and well worth the wait!

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The grouper tacos Anjelica ordered at the Mexican restaurant in Galveston, Texas. http://www.tangledpasta.net

IMG_5353   In front of the corner Mexican restaurant where we dined in Galveston, markers indicating how high the water rose during the hurricanes of 1915, 1900, and 1961. http://www.tanledpasta.net

After our late lunch, we wandered into several antique shops, one of which consisted of nautical antiques. The scent of the shop can best be described as briny. All sorts of ship-related wares from mermaid mastheads and large bells to plates and service ware abounded. If a person wanted to decorate a beach house, this would be the place to come! A few doors down, another antique shop sold large armoires and china cabinets, in addition to exquisite glassware and porcelain. Furniture and side tables and knickknacks, too, had been carefully preserved, polished and shined at this fine emporium. This had been Anjelica’s first time to Galveston, and she gave it her stamp of approval.

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The Galveston Opera House, conveniently located next to a pub! http://www.tangledpasta.net

On our final full day in Houston, we had lunch with Anjelica’s good friend Emily and her darling baby at Backstreet Café in River Oaks. I thoroughly enjoyed dining with friends as I ate my Poached Seafood Salad laden with shrimp, scallops, and calamari. We said farewell to Emily and her baby. We then engaged in sightseeing through leafy River Oaks. It’s filled with mansions, well-appointed lawns, and is a treasure trove of story folklore.

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The lovely River Oaks photo is worth repeating! http://www.tangledpasta.net

Ciao for now.

 

 

Houston, Part 2

A Roman Marble Sarcophagus Depicting a Battle between Soldiers and Amazons (Warrior Women), 140–170 AD. http://www.mfah.org/art/detail/74957

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

My daughter tested her metal in navigating Houston traffic as we sped hither and yon on the freeways. Great friend Juliet loaned us her Volkswagen Tiguan for our explorations. After going back and forth over whether to visit The Menil Collection, or The Rothko Chapel, , or The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston,

Henri Matisse, French, 1869–1954, Woman in a Purple Coat, Oil on canvas. https://www.mfah.org/art/detail/1552?returnUrl=%2Fart%2Fsearch%3Fq%3DMatisse%26page%3D2

Given our limited time, we settled upon the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH), where we could get sample art across the millennia. The MFAH has grown by leaps and bounds since I volunteered there in the 1980’s, and I was anxious to visit the expanded galleries. Whereas Anjelica prefers Art of the Antiquities, I relish Impressionism. While I had to eventually pry her away from the Art of the Ancient World, she had to wedge me out of the galleries housing Impression masterpieces. Among my favorites in the MFAH are Gustav Caillebotte’s The Orange Trees; Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Girl Reading, Claude Monet’s Water Lilies [Nympheas], and Early Modernist Henri Matisse’s Woman in a Purple Coat.

The back of the Egyptian Monumental Statue of the Pharaoh Ramesses II Enthroned,
1279 –1212 BC,
Granodiorite, https://www.mfah.org/art/detail/51813?returnUrl=%2Fart%2Fsearch%3Fdepartment%3DAntiquities%26page%3D5.

Anjelica wanted to see the photography, of which there are extensive holdings; it proved fascinating. With her undergraduate double major in Journalism and in Classical Studies with an emphasis in Art History, Anjelica reveled in the ancient art holdings of the MFAH. She pointed out nuances on reliefs from tombs and on a Roman sarcophagus. When I clamped my eyes on the enormous statue of an Egyptian royal, I drank in the Hieroglyphs on the sides and back of the art. In linguistic classes, I wax poetic on the subject of Writing, particularly that of the Ancient Egyptians. Seeing large hieroglyphics sculpted into a work from B. C. made me want to teach linguistic courses again!

After feasting on Photography, Antiquities, Impressionism, and Contemporary Art, we needed to pull away to replenish our bodies. This need led us to the Museum’s Café. It is airy, full of light, with a bounty of delicious fare. My daughter ordered the Prosciutto and Arugula Pizza, while I munched on a Pesto Panini with Chicken as we imbibed refreshing iced tea. Our attention then turned to the Gift Shop. Museum gift shops are some of my favorite shopping haunts. The jewelry, glassware, books, and scarves are only part of the artistic creations to be found. In the cat book area, I purchased Henri, le Chat Noir: The Existential Musings of an Angst-Filled Cat. Henri is my favorite Internet cat. Anjelica bought a picture of a Georgia O’Keefe painting she plans to frame.

Arugula and Prosciutto pizza at the MFAH Cafe. http://www.tangledpasta.net

Reluctantly, we left the MFAH with our cultural aesthete nourished. We drove the 45-minutes back to Clear Lake pleased with the knowledge that our horizons had been broadened, thanks the Houston’s stellar Museum of Fine Arts.

Ciao for now.

 

 

Houston, Part 1

 

 

Bouquet of fresh flowers for the wedding ceremony.

The bride’s colors were purple and light pink. Her dress had long lace sleeves, a v-neck, and layers of sheer white, and a cathedral length veil that flowed like a poem. The bridesmaids wore long gowns with purple sequins on the top, and layers of sheer lavender organza on the bottom. The groom looked dashing in a charcoal gray tux and vest with a pink bow tie. His groomsmen were decked out in purple ties with matching vests under their gray tuxes.

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

We spent a memorable week in Houston with dear friends Juliet and Mark. We celebrated their daughter Ann’s wedding with their family. I rejoiced in returning to a city and friends who are like family to me. The rehearsal dinner proved lively and tasty with chicken and shrimp as the main events. The next day, the bride was stunning and the groom handsome, the service sweet, and the reception rollicking, in the best of Texas traditions! The weather smiled upon the bridal party and the rest of us, with blue skies, sunshine, and 80-degree weather. We had shaken off the cold, dreary, grey northern Indiana skies the minute we landed in Houston. We readily embraced all that Texas sunshine!

We spent an afternoon several days prior to the wedding, placing white linens on the reception’s 28 tables in the Clear Lake Methodist Church’s Hall. We then arranged the silky purple and pink runners over each round table. The soon-to-be bride and groom spend copious amounts of their free time playing games with their friends. Board games, card games, bingo, word games, you name it, the couple and their friends play it. Therefore, in lieu of traditional floral arrangements, games were the name of the centerpieces! We arranged large and small die that Juliet had hand-painted and decorated, and assorted games on the center of each table. Sheets of Wedding Bingo and word games were handed out after the Wedding Luncheon.

Saturday morning arrived and wedding verve permeated the air. At 11:30 a.m., classically trained musicians began a 30-minute concert of sumptuous music. Thereafter, Miss Patsy, the grandmother of the bride, Juliet, the mother of the bride, and the mother of the groom were escorted and seated. The groom and his groomsmen assumed their positions, the bridesmaids, and matron of honor Janelle processed into the church. The flower girl and ring bearer played their parts without a wrinkle. The music then swelled, as Mark proudly walked his daughter Ann down the aisle. The minister has known Ann for years; he gave a fine sermon about marriage and commitment. When he pronounced them man and wife, and said to Karl, “You may kiss the bride,” Karl gave Ann a Hollywood kiss! I was proud of them, for I had suggested such a kiss several nights before the wedding as they were practicing the kiss at Ann’s family home. Whether he remembered my suggestion, or they Googled “wedding kisses”, the kiss sealed the deal.

The pork loin tasted moist and delicious, as did the side dishes at the luncheon. In high spirits we participated in the games, noshed at the Sweet and Salty snacks table, and danced to contemporary tunes the DJ spun. I conversed with old friends and met knew people at this joyous wedding reception. Later, we lined up outside and blew little bubbles with pink wands and cheered as Karl carried Ann to his big, shiny, white truck. Their faces wreathed in smiles, the newlyweds set off on a two-week honeymoon amid heartfelt wishes for a long, happy life together.

Ciao for now.