The Power of Bucatini all’Amatriciana

Amatrice, Italy - Aug 25th, 2012: Majorettes celebrating for the annual "Pasta Fair" in the centre streets of Italian town
Amatrice, Italy – Aug 25th, 2012: Majorettes celebrating for the annual “Pasta Fair” in the centre streets of Italian town

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

The earthquake that devastated the small Italian towns of Amatrice, Accumoli, and Pescara del Tronto reminded Italians, who already have it emblazoned in their minds, that the seductive charm of Italy belies an ominous truth: She is vulnerable to devastating earthquakes. The last one occurred in 2012 in the province of Emilia Romagna. 2009’s massive earthquake nearly annihilated L’Aquila in the Abruzzi.

Beppe Severgnini, who writes for the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, penned an insightful article entitled Italy’s Fragile Beauty. Tourists trek to Italy to take picture perfect photos of the glories of Rome, of the ethereal beauty of Venice, of the inspired artwork of Florence, and partake of Naples’ incomparable pizza. Yet underneath the superficial travels of tourists lurks what Italians know all too well: Earthquakes. Like the Walls of Jericho, those picturesque Italian towns balanced atop the Apennine Mountains might well come tumbling down when the African and Eurasian tectonic plates collide in Italy.

Years ago I asked my father about earthquakes in Italy. I was writing a report for a school assignment and I figured he might shed light on those massive rumblings. He had emigrated to the U.S. from Italy when he was 23, long before more sophisticated means of tracking earthquakes were in place. He explained that in his village in southern Italy, the only thing to do was to brace oneself in a doorway. This, he said, served only several members of a family of eight. There were not enough doorways for everyone in his family. The alternative was to flee into the streets, hardly appealing when large rocks rained down from the Apennine sky. A tornado was preferable to an earthquake, he informed me, for with a tornado shelter could be sought in a basement. Basements were not an option in his Italian village; it was all rocks below the houses.

The beguiling beauty of Italy and her people are dear to my heart. I have known quite a few people who stampeded through Italy to take their picture perfect photo of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, to ride in a Venetian gondola while snapping away at structures. Yet these travelers of several weeks rarely take the time to talk with the natives who live, breathe, and toil in this ancient landscape. Most of them are hastening with family and friends through the countryside, driving their way down the narrow roads. Took a quick tour of Rome – check. Trekked in Cinque Terre – check. Saw Michelangelo’s David in Florence – check. Plan next summer’s trip to another country – check. I prefer to position myself in one locale for a month or more, get to know the shopkeepers’ names, frequent the local eateries, settle in to the rhythms of the town and take in its sites. But mostly for me it is about the people; that is the true adventure.

Ergo, the most recent earthquake and its aftermath tremors reverberated with me. I wondered about those residents of Amatrice, how they had planned for the Festival Amatriciana, how within moments the rocks and structures had fallen over and around them. Yesterday I watched a news video of rescue workers pulling a golden retriever from the rubble ten days after the earthquake. The dog named Romeo emerged intact. Unlike Shakespeare’s ill-fated Romeo, this one wagged its tail as he shook off the earth’s dust. Overjoyed at finding life, the rescuers carried Romeo down the steep pile of rocks. Several days before, other rescuers had unearthed a cat alive. The cat’s name was Gioia, meaning Joy. That name captures the indomitable spirit of Italians, for they will overcome adversity and rise again, as they have always done.

Ciao for now.


Ice, Baby, Ice

A gelateria in Florence, Italy
A gelateria in Florence, Italy

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

In the heat of the summer, during these dog days of summer, nothing cools the brow and the psyche like a frozen delight. Think snow-capped mountains, think winter snow in general, or think clean, shiny ice. Think ice cream. Think gelato.

NPR’s Audie Cornish conducted a fascinating interview with Francine Segan, a food historian who has tracked the history of frozen treats back to 3,000 B.C. when the Chinese mixed snow with fruit and beer. In the 10th century, Sarbat or sorbet as we know it, came to Sicily via an Arab invasion. The canny Italian scientist, Giammbatista della Porta, in 1561 experimented with ice and salt, and realized that this lowered temperature allowed for a creamy concoction, thereby creating gelato!

I am indebted to Giammbatista della Porta, who also has a very cool Italian name [no pun intended, but there it is]. The Florentines and the Romans both make indescribably delicious gelato. Since I cannot trek to Italy annually for the gelato I adore, I must settle for Whole Foods own gelato, which is none too shabby. Pistachio is my all-time favorite gelato, both inside and outside of Italy, followed by Stracciatella [which includes chocolate shavings] and Fragola [strawberry]. Italian law mandates that gelato must contain no less than 3.5% butterfat, which accounts for the fact that the incomparable Italian gelato triggers my taste buds in ways most U.S. gelato does not.

My proclivity for gelato does not exclude my periodic fondness for American ice cream. I would not dare profane this ice treat because I do indulge in particular flavors such as black raspberry, when I can find it, butter pecan, and vanilla bean. Low fat ice creams interest me not. If I’m going to indulge in frozen concoctions, I’m going for those with the butterfat; otherwise, it is like drinking skim milk, which looks like it has been waved over whole milk, and then been tossed with a bucket of water. Of course, this is purely personal preference: mine. A delicious ice creamery in Valparaiso, Indiana, called Valpo Velvet, makes smooth, deliciously rich ice cream – even black raspberry. When I’m in that charming town, inevitably I stop by Valpo Velvet’s ice cream shop, sit down and savor its rich ice cream.

While my heart belongs to gelato, in the end, it matters not which frozen treat cools a person off. What matters is the variety of choices to whet the appetite. I’m planning on a return to Italy within the next year or so. I cannot wait to luxuriate in its gelato! In the meantime, Whole Foods’ own gelato sates my gelato tooth.

Ciao for now.


Spirited Constellations: Travels

Spirited Constellations: Travels is now available in paperback! -
Spirited Constellations: Travels is now available in paperback! –

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Spread the word:  Spirited Constellations: Travels is now available in paperback on Amazon!


Theodora D’Medici turned her floundering bookshop business into a thriving enterprise. Previously magical thinking had realized her past into her present. Now it has turned her present into the past in Italy as she finds herself trapped in a time travel with her modern-day insatiable lover and with her phantom lover.

Spirited Constellations: Travels is the second installment in a series of adult paranormal romance novels. If you like lusty heroines and provocative themes, then you will embrace Mary Anna Violi’s powerful vision of a world beyond Earth where rules of love and sex no longer apply. When Theodora attempts to come to terms with the time travel experience, and her real life lover and with her phantom lover, she finds that carnal knowledge can unleash forbidden pleasure when licentious attitudes rule.

Here is the link to Amazon:

Thank you for your patronage and happy reading!

Ciao for now.



Spirited Constellations: Travels

Spirited Constellations: Travels is now published and available on Amazon!
Spirited Constellations: Travels is now published and available on Amazon!
By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaViolli

Spirited Constellations: Travels

Hear ye! Hear ye! The second book in my Spirited Constellations series is now available on Amazon!

Purchase the e-book version of Spirited Constellations: Travels for the introductory price of $.99 for one week on Amazon and with Prime!

Spirited Constellations: Travels is a paranormal romance. In this second book in the series, Theodora D’Medici, her lover Danny Caruso, and her Phantom lover Giorgio Bellacqua travel back in time to Italy.

May your reading of Spirited Constellations: Travels be out of this world!

Thank you and Happy Reading!

Ciao for now



La Pizza Magnifica!

The pizza in Rome is tasty too, like pizza all over Italy and in the U.S. where there are large populations of Italians!
The pizza in Rome is tasty too, like pizza all over Italy and in the U.S. where there are large populations of Italians!

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

I am here today to extol the virtues of that delicious dish that pairs so well with Friday Night Lights: Pizza! While ravenous high school football fans eat pizza on Friday nights, college football spectators relish it on Saturdays, and on Monday nights pro-football viewers eat it up. Yet I am neither a football fan, nor a sports fan in general, but I am an Italian who has feasted on pizza since childhood.

There are those pizza purists who claim a brick oven is necessary for a superb pizza. It is true that the wood-burning brick oven gives the pizza a particular smoky flavor, but I have dined on flavorful pizzas cooked on a grill, my brother is a master of this manner of pizza making, and on pizzas baked in a standard oven, which is my pizza domain. I readily admit I got a kick out of sitting in pizzerias in Florence, Italy at a pizza bar where I could actually see the pizza makers thrusting the pie into the brick oven on long pizza paddles. As thrilling as I found this every time, the heat emanating from the oven caused beads of perspiration to roll down my face. The pizza was mighty fine every time, washed down with local wine, and with lively conversation.

I used to make my own pizza crust, and infrequently I still do. The fact is that it is time saving to purchase Whole Foods own pizza crust, white or whole wheat, or Trader Joe’s, or, even in a pinch, the humble Pillsbury’s Classic. What I like on my pizza is a fire-roasted tomato sauce, fresh Mozzarella cheese, a bit of red pepper, drizzled with a good quality olive oil, and topped off with fresh basil leaves for a traditional Neapolitan Pizza Margherita. Underneath the dough, I have spread around olive oil. However, I also devour pizza with the aforementioned sauce, shredded Mozzarella or rounds of Provolone cheese, sausage, green peppers, mushrooms, and olives. I also sprinkle a generous amount of oregano on pizza, just because. As always, I have olive oil under the pizza dough for added flavor. After all, I make pizza to suit my own palate, which explains the anchovies and artichokes that often find their way on top of my pizza. If I have guests, then I customize the pizza to satisfy their pizza preferences. Like pasta, pizza lends itself to invention; it is a creative force of food nature!

Buon appetite!

Ciao for now.

The Daughter of An Immigrant

The Pontifical Swiss Guards at Vatican City have been guarding Catholic Popes since 1506. -
The Pontifical Swiss Guards at Vatican City have been guarding Catholic Popes since 1506. –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

The past days I have been following the visit of Pope Francis in the United States. Each day I watch the New York Times video footage and I read the articles chronicling this historic event. Hearing the Pope speak at the 9/11 Memorial moved me to tears. Hearing him address the United Nations and seeing Malala Yousafzai intently listen to him also brought a tear to my eye, as did the Pope’s service at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, and the one at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Throughout it all, I have envisioned my father and my mother with me, knowing how much Pope Francis would have meant to them.

I well remember when my parents took my brother and me to Italy and we stood in Saint Peter’s Square in Vatican City on a Sunday morning. We were waiting for Pope Paul VI appear on is balcony and give us a blessing. The Square was packed with people. I recall getting pinched on my derriere by a handsome Italian man after the Pope had retreated from the balcony. As I turned to see who had had the impudence to violate my person, the Italian shot me a sartorial smile and disappeared in to the throng. Emblazoned too in my memory are the tears that streamed down the face of my father. He had immigrated to the United States when Mussolini was in power in Italy. This trip was his first back to Italy since he had left impoverished Calabria behind him. My mother too felt overwhelmed at the blessing of Pope Paul VI. Her paternal grandfather had immigrated from a village outside of Genoa, Italy. She too was conscious of her immigrant ancestors.

The media blathers about how Pope Francis refers often to being the son of an immigrant. Aretha Franklin, who will perform for the Pope in Philadelphia this weekend, said in an interview that she likes how he remembers his own immigrant roots. Well, as the daughter of an immigrant, I can say for certain that the immigrant and his family took little for granted. Aside from his wedding day, my father’s proudest day was when became a U.S. citizen. This was the country that gave him a new lease on life, one where he could realize his dreams of business, family, and college-educated children. Yet the pillar of these dreams was his Catholic faith. In spite of myriad obstacles thrown in his path, he never waivered from his belief that God would help guide him through these trials. That is why I shed tears over what Pope Francis means to me, and how my parents would have embraced him, how he too is part of a continuum of the immigrant experience.

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 –

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 -
Lake Michigan Dunes, Indiana –








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 -
East Pier Light at twilight, Michigan City, IN –

Ciao for now.