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 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.

 

 

Vonnegut in Indianapolis

 

This dice mug reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut's artwork. - tangledpasta.net
This dice mug reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s artwork. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Last week I traveled to the Indianapolis area. It felt liberating to spend time with family Monday through Friday during a non-holiday time. My dear sister-in-law and I zipped around having fine adventures. One place I had longed to visit was the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library in downtown Indianapolis. The Mayor of Indianapolis declared 2017 the Year of Vonnegut, in Vonnegut’s hometown. Each month events related to the writer and artist take place in various venues across town: http://www.vonnegutlibrary.org/year-of-vonnegut/.

We set out on Tuesday morning with high expectations, all of which were met.It is a wonderful museum, full of light to cheer visitors, and with a knowledgeable tour guide full of Vonnegut lore. We learned several facts about the Vonnegut family, too: Grandfather Bernard Vonnegut was an architect who designed several prominent buildings in Indianapolis: The Athenaeum, The Fletcher Trust, and the Indiana Memorial Union [IMU] on the campus of Indiana University [IU] Bloomington. I spent a lot of years on the IU Bloomington campus, unaware of Kurt Vonnegut’s family connection to the IMU. Kurt was a prisoner of war [POW] during World War II, held captive in Dresden, Germany during the bombing of Dresden. He survived by hiding in a meat locker in the slaughterhouse where he was held prisoner. When Kurt returned to the United States still a soldier, he went to his family home, on leave for Mother’s Day in 1944. He soon learned his mother had committed suicide the night before.

First editions of Vonnegut’s work such as Slaughterhouse-Five, based on his POW experiences in Dresden, Breakfast of Champions, and my personal favorite, Cat’s Cradle, are housed in the museum. Other works abound in the museum such as an impressive online resource of all Vonnegut’s work, created several years ago by a group of Ball State University students under the aegis of their professor. So It Goes is the annual Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library. The typewriter on which Vonnegut wrote his books, plays, and poems is one of the more intriguing holdings; he never did compose his work on a computer. Equally enthralling were his original works of art on the museum’s walls. Two tickets also on display were to a speech he was to have given at Butler University several weeks after his 2007 death. While I had seen some of Vonnegut’s art, as well as letters of rejection at the IU Lilly Library on the Bloomington campus, the museum in Indianapolis proved a further treasure trove of Vonnegut’s work, of his family, and of the wonder that was Kurt Vonnegut. His messages of tolerance, acceptance, and peace ring true today.

Ciao for now.

Soup for All

Ribollita|AFoodCentricLife.com

This photo of Ribollita on china like mine is from Sally Cameron’s blog, A Food Centric Life at http://afoodcentriclife.com. She posted some yummy recipes! – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli 

One of my earliest childhood memories of food is that of soup. My mother concocted the most delicious, soul-warming soups for our family. Her chicken soup remains in my dreams, for she would make it with a hen my father butchered from his dozen chickens. Always he kept twelve chickens in the spacious coop and fenced yard within our orchard. Fresh eggs, roasted chicken, and the ubiquitous soup were all culinary events from those erstwhile hens. Whenever my Ohio relatives were commencing their drive to visit us, my Uncle Joe, whose parents were Sicilian immigrants, would phone my mother and say, “Kitty, toss another cup of water in the soup! We’re on our way!” He knew full well soup would be on the menu, with pasta served for the next day’s dinner.

Not only do I adhere to the healing power of soup, I believe also in its inherent ability to comfort, to console. My mother and father have long since passed away, yet they imbued me with a culinary sensibility that food transcends the foibles of the world. To quote famous chef and food critic Anthony Bourdain,

Soup is elemental, and it always makes sense, even when the world around us fails to.

 Frequently the world makes little sense, but soup atones for that. No matter how bad a day, regardless of disappoint, in spite of strife, and with little money, soup remains a constant presence that sustains us. With meat or without, with few or many vegetables, with a vegetable, or chicken, or beef broth, soup can be made from very little. My mother used to add either cabbage or Italian greens such as mustard greens, escarole, or dandelions to the carrots, onions, celery, tomatoes, beans, and chicken simmering away in her homemade chicken broth.

When I learned of the cookbook, Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity, by Barbara Abdeni Massaad, I knew I needed to purchase it. All of the proceeds are given to non-profit organizations for food relief efforts for Syrian refugees. The author has tapped into her extensive network of famous chefs, like Anthony Bourdain and Yotam Ottolenghi (author of Jerusalem, an amazing cookbook) to name only a few of the many contributing chefs. Massaad was born in Beirut, Lebanon, yet grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where her father owned a Lebanese restaurant, although she now resides in Beirut. Next to Italian food, I count Lebanese food among my favorite cuisines; therefore, I became interested in Massaad’s cookbook, Man’oushé: Inside the Street Corner Lebanese Bakery some years ago. She is active in the Slow Food Movement, founded by Italian Carlo Pettrini. The movement focuses on preservation of traditional and regional cuisine in support of sustainable foods. It sounds like how my father and mother parlayed  his abundant garden into soup, and filled our large freezer with vegetables and chicken years ago!

Here are several links to Soup for Syria: Recipes to Celebrate Our Shared Humanity:

http://soupforsyria.com/book.php

https://www.amazon.com/Soup-Syria-Recipes-Celebrate-Humanity/dp/1566560896/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1486659579&sr=1-1&keywords=soup+for+syria

Tonight I am serving Ribollita, a hearty Florentine soup I made this morning. Prior to ladling up bowls of Ribollita, I will lay toasted Italian bread in the bottom of the bowls. ‘E buona!

Ciao for now.

Italian Cooking Survival Skills

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I served up rotini with a pasta puttanesca sauce with olives and a side of Swiss chard topped with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Recently I pondered the longevity of Italian cooking. While I enjoy cooking Italian food, I tend to eat other kinds of cuisine when dining out. For example, I relish Indian food. However, instead of keeping staple ingredients on hand for Indian food, I prefer not to, and opt to eat Indian out. Yet when it comes to Italian foodstuffs, I am a connoisseur due my lifelong cradle to present love affair with it.

On the subject of Italian dishes, I wax poetic: as long as a cook has a bottle of high quality olive oil, fine Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, good quality pasta (I keep rigatoni, linguine, fettucine, cappellini, and rotini on hand), excellent butter such as Kerry’s Gold, and fresh parsley on hand, delicious pasta can be concocted. Additional items to have ready are Sicilian green olives (my personal favorite), Calamata olives, anchovies, sardines (both in olive oil), and panko and/or Italian bread crumbs, capers, eggs, a large tin of tomatoes, a bottle of strained tomatoes, a bottle of robust red wine such as Chianti or Pinot Noir, a bottle of dry white wine such as Pinot Grigio, white truffle butter (when in season), pesto (during the winter months I purchase Costco’s Kirkland’s Basil Pesto), pancetta or bacon, and heavy cream.

With said ingredients on hand, I can whip up the following in a flash: spaghetti carbonara, pasta puttanesca, linguine with pesto, Greek pasta with olive oil, butter, and parsley, fettucine with white truffle butter and crimini mushrooms a’ la The Barefoot Contessa, spaghetti with anchovies, garlic and breadcrumbs courtesy of Melissa Clark of The New York Times Cooking, and spaghetti with sardines, capers and breadcrumbs thanks to Mark Bittman of the The New York Times Cooking. All of these delectable entrees may be made effortlessly with my pantry and refrigerator items that I generally keep on hand. All this, without my even delving into Italian soups!

Here is a link to Melissa Clark’s recipe for Spaghetti with Garlicky Breadcrumbs and Anchovies recipe. I make it frequently.

https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016264-spaghetti-with-garlicky-bread-crumbs-and-anchovies?action=click&module=Recipebox&region=dinner&pgType=recipebox&rank=30

Buon appetito!

Ciao for now.

Loving the Alien

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It feels like I am riding on a psychotic carousel in these political times.-tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Never in my wildest dreams did I envision living in a dystopian society, but here I am, stuck in the current political swamp. Now, there is an “executive order” from the man whose own mother emigrated to the U.S. from Scotland as a young woman, and whose paternal grandparents emigrated from Germany. Apparently in his mind, Western European immigrants are acceptable, while those from predominantly Muslim countries are not. My own father and my paternal great-grandfather were Italian immigrants, so I guess they would still have been deemed worthy. l hazard to guess that Malala Yousefzai would have been suspect because she is a practicing Muslim. Maybe because she won the Nobel Peace Prize, she would still be considered “fit” ideologically to enter the U.S., but perhaps not under the current regime.

There is this major issue called Human Rights. Hello? Can you hear me? I reiterate: HUMAN RIGHTS. David J. Bier, an immigration policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, wrote yesterday in The New York Times’ The Opinion Page an essay entitled, Trump’s Immigration Ban Is Illegal. Bier explains that The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 banned all discrimination against immigrants on the basis of national origin, replacing the old prejudicial system and giving each country an equal shot at the quotasSeeking to deny entry to the U.S. to only Muslims, yet granting entry to Christians and others of minority religions, screams of discrimination and ignorance.

Over the years, I have taught English as a Second Language and English as a New Language to hundreds of Muslim students from around the world. Indeed, my graduate degree is in Linguistics from Indiana University Bloomington. Focused on academic studies, these students were neither proselytizer, nor terrorist. They were family oriented, good people who only wanted to further their education. This “executive order” is barring these highly intelligent foreign students from studying in the U.S. because of what: Fear, racism, and hatred? As one of my international students said after the November 2016 elections, “Who does he think is going to develop technology in the U.S.?” The student had a point since technology in the U.S. is populated primarily with Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern people. Building a wall to prevent Mexicans from illegally entering the U.S. is one of the more moronic ideas spouted from the incumbent. Did he learn nothing from the history of the Great Wall of China, or from the history of the Berlin Wall? Apparently not.

When a population is persecuted and banned, think Native Americans, Jews, Armenians, Bedouins, no matter the insidious forms of deprivation, humiliation, exile, and torture, these races and cultures have managed to survive. They persevere in spite of demagogues and twisted ideologies through sheer guts, dignity, faith, and help from sympathetic, more humane governments, like Canada.

I used to be proud to be a U.S. citizen. Now, David Bowie’s song, I’m Afraid of Americans reverberates in my head, as does his song, Loving the Alien. Come to think of it, his wife, Iman, who is a native of Somalia, would now not be able to enter the U.S. because she is from one of those seven countries Big Brother fears. Here is a reminder: Every one of us came from aliens, with the exception of Native Americans. It is disconcerting how mostly old, white, wealthy men harbor the paternal illusion that they are “protecting” their interests, under the guise of “protecting” the common people’s interests. They are driving policies in the U.S. that create more divisiveness, anger, and horror of U.S. Americans. I don’t know how the Electoral College can sleep at night after what it has done to place That at the head of our government when over two-and-a-half million more of us voted to give the other candidate the majority of the popular vote. Each night I pray for sanity to prevail.

Ciao for now.