My Alma Mater, Part IV

The Oliver Winery, 1970's photo displayed in the Wine Tasting Room -
The Oliver Winery, 1970’s photo displayed in the Wine Tasting Room –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

As an IU college student in the 1970’s, I managed to attend classes and learned to cherish life in colorful Bloomington.  As I trekked to Ballantine Hall for my English literature classes, I was forced to tread lightly in my 3-inch wedge sandals worn with a maxi-dress.  My long hair was a halo of frizz since I braided my wet hair immediately after towel-drying it.  It was the ‘70’s; most of us had long hair parted down the middle, a’la British pop groups.

In 1972 buzz circulated about a new winery located 20 minutes outside of Bloomington.  A Professor of Law, Bill Oliver was the force behind a Heartland vineyard.  As the daughter of an Italian wine-maker, my curiosity led me to the Oliver Winery.  A  nondescript building, scrubby vegetation, a trio of stoned students banging on tambourine, small drum, and finger cymbals greeted visitors.  On the other side, I noted a petite vineyard, the first I had ever seen in The Heartland.  Friendly voices called us over to an enormous wooden vat.  Hippies ladled some kind of “wine” that I had never seen nor smelled before called Camelot Mead into plastic cups.  I took a swig and nearly choked.  After drinking the full-bodied, dry Italian red vino my father made, this brew was enough to choke an Italian horse.

“First time drinking Mead?” the hippie with a ladle asked me.

“[Cough, cough, cough, choke] Yes,” I spluttered, “and possibly the last.”

She laughed and ladled up some more of the brew into the cups of unsuspecting others.

I didn’t drink a drop of Oliver Wine until the late 1990’s when I was at IU Bloomington on business.  A wine-tasting evening at the Oliver Winery had been organized.  I begged off from the sunset field trip.

“C’mon,” the event planner argued.  “The Oliver Winery has undergone a metamorphosis since the ‘70’s.  Check it out.”

In front of the Oliver Winery -
Anjelica in front of the Oliver Winery –

I succumbed.  To say that the winery had changed was an understatement:  I didn’t even recognize it.  The evolved Oliver Winery now not only housed a classy wine bar inside a beautiful structure, it also offered an extensive selection of wines, along with its Camelot Mead.   I tried envisioning Beowulf and his entourage feasting, wenching, and pouring mead into their gullet, but even this literary allusion failed to overcome my dislike of honey mead.   When I asked the sommelier for the driest of the red wines, I purchased a bottle for my parents.  The following Sunday, my parents concurred that this wine smacked of an after dinner one.

On Mom’s Weekend in April 20, 2013, my daughter signed us up for her sorority’s wine tasting event at the Oliver Winery.  Anjelica prefers the mildness of the Oliver Wines. The Creekbend Vineyard Chambourcin 2012 tasted so good that I purchased several bottles at the winery, along with a bottle of Sangria for fun. But not the honey mead.  I’ll take my wine and my honey separately.  Salute!

Ciao for now.

My Alma Mater, Part III

The Bell Tower on the IU Bloomington campus, steps away from my old graduate school apartment -
The Bell Tower on the IU Bloomington campus, steps away from my old graduate school apartment –

By Mary Anna Violi |@Mary Anna Violi

Next month heralds once more my return to my alma mater, Indiana University Bloomington, for an event that merits pride and happiness:  My daughter’s graduation. She  will be awarded her B.A. degrees in Journalism and Classical Studies, and her minor in Art History.  She will walk Commencement that morning, as will my darling nephew Daniel that afternoon on the same campus.  Our family joins them for receptions for at their respective schools the night before. The next day they will don their cap and gown, crimson stole, and fasten the tassels of their schools to their mortar boards.

No doubt I shall shed tears of joy at their academic achievements.

When I graduated in 1976 from the aforementioned university, I didn’t walk Commencement.  Having officially graduated in August, I would have had to wait until either December or the following May for Commencement.  The wait, coupled with  graduating with 4,0000 other soon-to-be-former students, held little charm for me.  My parents were not college graduates, yet three of my mother’s brothers obtained their M.D. degrees from the IU School of Medicine, another brother had a degree in Business from IU, and still another was a Purdue Engineering graduate.  It wasn’t that Mama refused to go to college; it was simply that her family with nine children was cash poor.

In short, my parents didn’t push me to attend my Commencement.  My brother, however, had other ideas.  Five years younger than I, when the time came for his IU graduation, we witnessed his Commencement and celebrated with him.  In those years, it was I who colored outside the lines, and my brother who very much colored within those lines.  I was the risk-taker; he followed a more conservative path.  Perhaps it reflected my writing, literary, and musical pursuits that contrasted with his economics and business ones.  Whatever it was in the ‘70’s, the fact remains that I elected not to walk Commencement, he did.

Having grown up in the 1960’s and having come of age in the 1970’s, our culture was different:  The racial riots burned metropolises nationwide, urban terrorism terrorized city-dwellers, the women’s movement left gender roles confused, the Sexual Revolution condoned random sex, and the Vietnam War broke everyone’s heart.  My daughter has come of age in a 21st century cultural landscape of economic chaos, crippling college debt, a declining job market for college graduates, and gratuitous violence.  She stands as my hope for a better future.  You bet I will be there to cheer her on as she graduates in May.  I applaud her pending law school endeavors, passion, fervor, intellect, and compassion.  Not only is she is the light of my life, her luminous vision wants to make this a better world.  I remember the feel of that inner fire, that smoldering passion of those undergraduate and graduate years at my alma mater.  I know that my daughter will shine her light too, with her IU degrees in hand.

Ciao for now.

My Alma Mater, Part 2

IU Auditorium on the Indiana University campus -
IU Auditorium on the Indiana University campus –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi 

On Friday evening, we dined with my nephew Daniel.  Like my daughter, his cousin, he too will graduate next month from Indiana University Bloomington, my alma mater.  The focus of the Mom’s Weekend at my daughter’s sorority was mothers and daughters, but Daniel is dear to my heart.  It would have been unfathomable to not break bread with him while I was on the campus!  After all, we are Italians, and alla famiglia is our motto.

It was, therefore, incumbent upon us to dine at Puccini’s, our favorite Italian restaurant on 4th Street [Giacomo Puccini happens to be my favorite Italian opera composer].  This particular street is home to various culinary offerings from around the world:  Thai, Italian, Turkish, Indian, and Chinese, to name a few. At Puccini’s the three of us feasted on bruchetta, calamari, three different pasta entrees, washed it all down with vino rosso, and then shared tiramisu over coffee.

And then we went to the opera.  Earlier that Friday morning, I had purchased tickets for us. Since it was the first Friday of the month performance, we could claim any seat in the house we wanted.  Daniel was wild to sit in a box seat.  Consequently, we arrived as soon as the doors opened so that he and his cousin could scramble up the flights of stairs to the box seating. As a former voice major, I still get thrills every time I set foot in the Musical Arts Center, the MAC as it is affectionately known.  Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Falstaff was premiering that night.  The IU School of Music is renowned around the world.  Its operas promise the audience extraordinary singers, enchanting sets, lighting, and costumes, and brilliant orchestras.  This first Friday performance of Falstaff did not disappoint.  Though not on my top five list of favorite operas [remember that I mentioned I am a Puccini opera aficionado?], the humor and witty staging of this performance held my attention throughout the nearly four-hour performance.  It captivated Anjelica and Daniel too.

In the cool of the night we strolled back to the car, weary, but full of conversation about the magical operatic event.  We did not wish to relinquish the opera, for we three were aware that next year would be different:  my daughter in graduate school in another city; my nephew starting his new job in yet another state.  For the past four years, I have had the inexpressible joy of sharing my alma mater with my daughter and with my nephew.  Our iPhone photos may document particular moments for us, but how I shall miss their undergraduate years.

Ciao for now.

A Professor Most Honorable

Jane Austen
Jane Austen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was but a sprig of an undergraduate student at Indiana University Bloomington, I had the incredible good fortune to take a literature course with a professor named Susan Gubar.  As one from a small town in northern Indiana, and one who had attended Catholic parochial elementary and high school to boot, I was still somewhat overwhelmed by the sheer size and scope of IU Bloomington.  These were the Vietnam War years, and the campus was bursting at the seams with students, protests, the women’s movement, and the sexual revolution.  I dyed my long hair black, ceased wearing a bra, wore big wire-rimmed glasses [very John Lennon], donned tie-dyed clothing, and shlepped around the campus in bell-bottom jeans.  My Italian father thought I had gone to hell; my mother prayed that I would return to more flattering attire and my natural hair color.

Susan Gubar and her co-author Susan Gilbert had just finished what was to be a landmark book:  Madwomen in the Attic.  The minute I stepped into Professor Gubar’s classroom, my world tilted.  She encouraged us to voice our ideas about the literature – George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss, Charlotte Bronte’s Villette,

Portrait of Charlotte Brontë
Portrait of Charlotte Brontë (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 Jane Austin’s Emma and Persuasion to name a few.  Coming from straight lecture courses on literature where I found myself falling asleep while another professor waxed poetic on Keat’s Ode on a Grecian Urn for a week, I had little hope of Susan’s course being any different.  How wrong I was.

Often as the years pass, the memories of which professor one had for what course dim.  Not so my memories Susan Gubar and of intellectual engagement in the three literature courses I took with her.  Her insatiable pursuit of the exploration of literature, particularly Victorian literature at that time, made an indelible impression upon me.  If ever I were to teach, I told myself, I want to create a dynamic environment that fosters literary discussion.  Susan Gubar remains for me, even after my thirty-two years of teaching in higher education, the yardstick against which I measure myself.  Prizes and accolades Susan has received in spades.  However, I think one of her greatest achievements is inspiring those of us fortunate enough to have studied literature with her.

Now, in Susan Gubar’s Well Blog in The New York Times, she teaches us about coping with cancer, in Susan’s case, ovarian cancer.  Through her powerful voice, I find myself inspired all over again.

Ciao for now.