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.

I Hate Laundry

If I were Fellini the Cat, laundry would not be an issue - tangledpasta.net
If I were Fellini the Cat, laundry would not be an issue – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Yes, it is true:  I hate doing laundry, but I adore donning clean clothing, and therein lies the conundrum.  I also despise trying to remember if it is “lies” or “lays”, which the average native English speaker likely neither remembers, nor cares, save for some uptight, full-of-oneself English teacher who tends to forget the “lie versus lay” argument is hardly a cure for something really important, like a fatal disease.

Part of my revulsion of doing laundry has to do with where the washer and dryer are in our vintage home.  Whose idea was it to park the washer and dryer in the basement?  I am not referring to some high falutin’ track house in a suburban development where the basement functions as a lower extension of a family room.  I am talking about the non-refurbished basement in an 85-year-old home.  In case the reader is curious, our money has gone to make-over the kitchen, install central air-conditioning, put in new windows in every room [and there are eleven windows alone in the front room], create more outdoor warm weather living space by building a brick patio, repairing or putting in new dry wall, and that is all I can tick off immediately.

No, a basement re-do is not on the radar.  When the central a/c was installed – a new system compatible with the gas-water heating system [add a new boiler to the aforementioned litany of home upgrades in the above paragraph], the contractor asked if we had plans to remodel the basement because if we did, there would be a large problem looming regarding the enormous pillowy-silver pipes the cooling installation required.  That put the kibosh on any future thoughts of actually having a nicer sort of basement.

Consequently, we trudge up and down the ancient basement stairs [note to self:  best to get bids on new basement stairs], to the fairly new Maytag washer and dryer units that wash, clean, and spin dry our clothing.  I should not complain, for I spent my Houston years as an apartment dweller that had to trudge to the local washeteria and wait hours for my laundry.  At least in our basement laundry facility, I can avoid inclement weather.  Yet this still does not completely reconcile me to my innate loathing of laundry.  For the record, I hate ironing too.

Ciao for now.

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.