A Big Birthday

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Various kinds of pizza are needed to celebrate a birthday! – tangled pasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Yesterday we honored my paternal uncle in celebrating his 98th birthday. He is the last of my father’s siblings, a family of three sisters and three brothers. My Italian immigrant father passed away just shy of 96, long after he had later brought his two younger brothers to the U.S. For various reasons, his three sisters remained in southern Italy. From 1933 onwards, my father’s family became geographically divided. Yet they always remained in touch throughout those many years.

Last night at the pizza party my cousins held for their father, I thought about how brave my father and his brothers were to come to a foreign country without having learned any English prior to their arrival, and with little money in their pockets. Granted, my father had a cousin who encouraged him to come to his newly adopted town, but to take that ship from Naples and sail to New York’s Ellis Island required a great leap of faith. Yet the three brothers all built new lives here, married, raised families, practiced their faith, and prospered in their own ways.

Last night my uncle looked on cheerfully as we circulated among one another, talking, laughing, and having a fine time. I thought about how much my late aunt, his wife, would have loved having the family together. Her good nature would have embraced the festivities. We all miss her very much, especially my uncle. Sometimes when I visit him, he says, “I don’t know why I’m here! For what?” I answer that he is now the patriarch of our family, that we need him to lead us. He tells me that I’m crazy, that no one needs him anymore. But he is wrong: he is the living link to our past, not that we think of him as a museum specimen, rather to know that we can turn to him for our family history and anecdotes. He reminds us from whence we came, of the struggles, the milestones, the essence of what makes us, for all intents and purposes, us.

Ciao for now.

Radio Daze

Retro styled image of an old car radio
Old cars, old radios, new ideas, and great humor equal Tom and Ray. – tangledpasta.net

 Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Early this morning when I deemed it far to soon to abandon my bed, I found myself listening to homage on NPR’s Fresh Air. This particular one featured vignettes from a 2001 interview Terry Gross did with Tom and Ray Magliozzi from their NPR radio show, Car Talk. Although I had previously heard this tribute to Tom Magliozzi, I enjoyed hearing it all again. Tom Magliozzi died in November 2014 of “complications from Alzheimer’s”, according to the broadcast, but I can hear him once a week, and I am not talking about via paranormal experience.

On the weekends, I continue to tune in to Car Talk on NPR. Rechristened The Best of Car Talk, my education persists regarding cars and all sorts of non-car related subjects, courtesy of the Magliozzi Brothers. Those two MIT graduates were inspired and inspiring. According to those who knew Tom and know Ray, the Italian brothers really were the “real deal”, which is most refreshing. Ray still broadcasts commercials prior to the weekend shows, which makes me feel close to him, not in a creepy way, but in a friend kind of manner. Even though he resides in the environs of Cambridge, Massachusetts, or maybe still in their “fair city” of Cambridge, he’s close to my ear because of the radio.

Oh, and I absolutely love their accents! Those Cambridge intonations, vernacular, and language rhythms resonate with me. Not that I could emulate their sound, no, that is their unique mode of expression. I merely kick back and drink in their brash sound, made all the more vivid because of Tom’s cackle one-of-a-kind laugher.

In addition to learning about cars, I always feel better just listening to Tom and Ray. They are creative, funny, insightful, caring, and are good brothers to one another. Over the years, they have impressed me with their sense of family and their loyalty to friends. My impression is that their radio broadcast team and their long-time producer, Doug Berman, functioned like the Magliozzi’s surrogate radio family. One memorable broadcast included a hilarious segment on how the Magliozzi brothers planned a winter getaway trip to sunny Florida for their radio entourage. Ray became so ill before the trip, his doctor forbade him to go. He asked his brother Tommy to think of him on the trip, and did “Tommy” ever!

Maybe it is their breadth of knowledge, their means of extracting humor from seemingly impossible situations, and their ability to chase away the blues that draws me to Car Talk and to Ray’s continued presence. The world makes sense again to me every weekend with Car Talk.

Ciao for now.

Let There Be Cake!

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Costco calls its cake “The All-American Cake”. I think many would approve!-tangledpasta.net

 By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Yesterday we celebrated a dear friend’s birthday. I made a Barefoot Contessa recipe from her new cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey. Said Jeffrey is her husband, the Dean of the Yale School of Business, who relishes Ina’s cooking. Who wouldn’t? The “Rigatoni with Sausage and Fennel” recipe intrigued me because a.) I love fennel, and b.) the recipe called for only two teaspoons of tomato paste and no other tomatoes. Also, it included a cup of white wine, which enhanced the flavor of the cream-based sauce. I felt confident about the rigatoni dish since The Barefoot Contessa states on the back of the book jacket that all of the recipes have been “Jeffrey tested”. I’ve watched her cooking show for a long time, and Jeffrey seems to enthusiastically consume her culinary offerings.

I decided to follow further Ina Garten’s advice and serve the main event with a green salad, and ciabatta bread. Generally, I make simple green salads consisting of Romaine lettuce with a dressing of balsamic vinegar, good quality olive oil, Italian parsley, and sea salt and pepper. While I rarely serve bread with a pasta entrée, ciabatta is like the un-bread due to its thinness and lightness of taste. The rigatoni entrée included mild Italian sausage, heavy cream, half and half, garlic, onion, fresh fennel, Italian parsley, Parmesan cheese, and a dash of dried Italian red pepper. I cooked the rigatoni and the sauce stove top in separate large pots, and then mixed the components together. Finally, I baked the mixture in the oven. The tantalizing smell wafting from the oven only whetted our appetites!

Suffice to say, the repast tasted delicious! Thank you Barefoot Contessa, and Jeffrey! After a while, we rolled out the birthday cake: a four-layer confection of chocolate with chocolate icing and shaved chocolate all around. The cake stood tall and impressive. I confess I did not make this cake, having run short on time. Instead, I purchased Costco’s “All American Chocolate Cake”. Our birthday friend was thrilled! She told us it was the biggest birthday cake she had ever had! We took photos; she posted them on Facebook. She opened her presents. We had such fun! The fact that we experienced a carb overload and a sugar high failed to dampen our spirits. We then brewed herbal tea to quiet our digestive tracts. I packaged up half of the cake for our birthday friend to share with her family, and kept a bit of the mountainous cake for us. Later that night, our friend thanked us again for a tremendous birthday celebration. Happy that all went well, the day after the food fest, I still can’t contemplate eating.

Ciao for now.

Gray Days

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Valentino suggests having an espresso or a cappuccino to give one a lift in the winter.-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

It’s been days and days since sunlight and blessed UV rays beamed down upon us. Small wonder people in this part of the country suffer depression during these dreary winter months. At least snow whitens and brightens up the landscape. We have had only rain, rain, and more rain lately. The result is the landscape appears to be even bleaker than usual. The question becomes, how to surmount the gloomy elements without feeling as if one inhabits a Bronte novel overlooking the moors? Here are a few strategies I use to combat the dismal days.

  1. We leave up the Christmas tree. It’s artificial, so no worries on that front! The hundreds of white lights give a lift to the spirits. Another plus: Valentino the cat adores the plush skirt around the tree. He naps underneath it frequently, thereby changing up the game for our fluffy feline.
  2. Rediscover a favorite drink. I recommend a carbonated one during daylight hours. It’s sad to think of someone being totally sloshed to ward off the cheerless weather. Recently, I spied a box of La Croix Grapefruit Flavored Sparkling Water at the local Target. Now I pour my La Croix into a fun glass such as Snoopy wearing a striped stocking cap while sitting on to of his doghouse. To cheer me further, I even place a brightly colored straw in my glass.
  3. On the subject of new drinks, I admit to indulging in Samuel Adams’ Winter Lager. The cinnamon and other spices in this special lager lift my spirits as I imbibe it while I noshing on a Costco Pepperoni Pizza.
  4. Read a new book. I’m currently reading Jamie Attenburg’s Saint Maizie. While I ready myself for my annual read of Jane Austin’s Persuasion, I am also re-reading Nora Ephron’s I Remember Nothing. Last week I indulged in reading again her I Feel Bad About My Neck. Hilarious! I often like to read two or three books at once for fun on the literary front.
  5. Watch something on these long winter nights. On Sunday I will be viewing the new BBC series, Victoria, on PBS about the young queen taking the reigns of power. Even Queen Elizabeth II has a very cool series about her: The Crown. Old favorites, like Psyche, The Gilmore Girls, and The Thin Man movies make me happy.
  6. Make casseroles. I love Alton Brown’s Macaroni and Cheese. Who knew a bay leaf, paprika, and egg could reinvent the classic comfort food? http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/baked-macaroni-and-cheese-recipe.html
  7. Eat in another part of the house, like in the family room, or in the living room. Move away from the dining room table or the seats around the kitchen island. Have a picnic on the floor with big cushions to sit on. Make festive appetizers. Eat a different kind of pizza, perhaps one with arugula, goat cheese, and a cornbread crust.
  8. Take heart that Spring will return in March. Eventually trees will have leaves once more, and crocus will push up from the ground to greet us.

Ciao for now.

Melancholy, Baby, Over You

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

One year ago today, on January 10, 2016, David Bowie slipped away from the world. Like his song Slip Away from his 2002 album, Heathen, the world awakened on the morning of January 11, 2016, to learn that he had died after enduring cancer for 18 months. Liver cancer, to be exact, a cancer with a less than rosy prognosis for the Rock Icon.

Oddly enough, David Bowie’s friend, Lou Reed, of Velvet Underground fame, succumbed to liver cancer after surgery in 2013. Bowie produced Reed’s landmark album, Transformer, in 1972. Mick Ronson, Bowie’s lead guitarist on the landmark The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, 1972, also died of liver cancer in 1993. There is something unsettling about the idea that Bowie, Reed, and Ronson all died of liver cancer. Maybe it had to do with the copious amounts of alcohol and drugs they supposedly ingested in the 1970’s. Or perhaps the cancer was caused by a something else; I am neither physician, nor scientist, so I had best not hazard to guess.

All I know is that I am still heartbroken over David Bowie’s death. Having seen him in concert twice, once in 1983, in Houston, with his Serious Moonlight Tour, and again in Houston, in 1987, on his Glass Spider tour, I can only say that listening to Bowie’s music throughout a lot of his 50-year career proved transformative. Always inventive, always musically intriguing with his chord progressions, melodies, and lyrics, and always physically easy on the eyes, he fascinated me. Courageous and unendingly talented, he gave hope to those of us enthralled by his music to be brave, too, and follow our dreams.

His wife, Iman, posted a photo of New York City taken on the day her husband died last year. A double rainbow appeared in the sky that day. I like to think those rainbows walked David Bowie our Starman across the sky to his galaxy home.

Ciao for now.

The Year the Music Died

 

David Bowie performing his iconic song Heroes, in Berlin, in 2002, courtesy of YouTube. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

I do not consider myself a morbid person, yet casting a look back on music in 2016, I believe a case could be made for going a step further than The Day the Music Died, to recasting it as The Year the Music Died. Beginning with my beloved Rock God David Bowie’s death on January 10, followed by Glen Fry’s, and then by Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael, and others, it seemed the Grim Reaper loomed large.

Today marks David Bowie’s 70th birthday. I still cannot believe he ceased making music on Planet Earth, but I envision The Starman rocking on, overlooking us all, especially watching over his beloved family. We all now know that three months prior to his January 10, 2016 death, doctors had told him the cancer treatments were over; they were no longer working. It appears the liver cancer won out over medicine and science, as deadly forms of cancer do. I despise cancer in all forms; it has killed people I personally have known and loved. The scourge of cancer and its treatments fast-forwards the ageing process, often emaciates its victims, and plays funky with the brain. It is a curse.

The miracle of David Robert Jones, a.k.a. David Bowie, is that in spite of 18-months of aggressive cancer treatments, he forged ahead, and spun music [his album Blackstar], theater [Lazarus, his off-Broadway collaboration with Enda Walsh], and videos [Lazarus and Blackstar] during his remaining days on Earth. A towering figure in music, theater, film, art, fashion, performance, and in the Internet, David Bowie towered above others, epic and heroic, a visionary who remained true to his Muse to the very end. I respect that he refrained from revealing the extent of his illness, that he protected both his family and himself from invasive press and curiosity seekers. After all, his mother-in-law, his wife Iman’s mother,  was suffering from cancer at the same time; she succumbed in March 2016, after his January death.

Still, I would have liked to have seen David Bowie again in person, the multifaceted, talented meteor that fell to Earth, the man who shifted culture, and whose light burned brightly for us for over 50 years. I am certain that my desire is nothing compared to that of his family’s.

Happy Birthday, David Robert Jones, you are much loved.

Ciao for now.

 

A Clean Start

 

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The shores of Lake Michigan in winter, in Long Beach, IN stretch before me with endless possibilities ahead. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

While many made New Year’s resolutions to get their living space in tidy order, I labored to clear out my office. The one I vacated provided ample space and multiple bookshelves to hold my linguistic, literature, composition, and Montessori books. A large window overlooked a limestone building of little architectural interest, and took up most of the scenery. However, to the right, if I stood up, a partial view of trees could be seen. In business, the corner office is usually the coveted one, and that is the office I had up until last Friday. Lest one thinks I’m nostalgic for that space, rest assured, I am not, for at home I have several cozy areas where I write. I have had nice visits with colleagues ever since I gave notice of my leaving, and I enjoyed each and every one of them. Last Friday I sat down with a colleague whom I met 25+ years ago. We share a sense of history of the campus that few others do. Yet there are others I will remain in relatively close contact because of friendship.

I turned over the last of the keys to the office door, left the filing cabinet key and drawer keys in place. My friend and I hugged again, and then I left the building. Bidding adieu to her and others proved melancholy, even as I kept my eyes riveted on the future. The routine of these many years had embedded itself with a sort of comfort level during the best and the worst of times, which is a part of the landscape of a job. I’ve spoken about leaving a long time job for months with those who have either retired or resigned. Most informed me, “When it’s time to go, you’ll know.” Indeed, their sage counsel reverberated in my ears. My decision involved no drama. Instead, retiring simply felt right so that I could embark upon the next phase of my life.

As the New Year beckons me, I now lack excuses for not ridding my closets and drawers of clothing, papers, and miscellaneous pieces of the past. The time de-clutter my living space is now. The moment to reinvent my life invigorates me. My eyes are focused on the present. The possibilities of the future with writing seem boundless.

Ciao for now.