Facts are, in Fact, Facts

NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR, commonly known as 1984


By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

I have been lately contemplating what changes mean. Certainly we have witnessed the emergence of populism in our government; furthermore, we have experienced 2016 as the warmest year on our planet. One change that I find troubling is the recent rhetoric regarding “alternative facts”.NPR’s broadcast on The Two-Way, on January 25, 2017, discussed how Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post cited the phrase from George Orwell’s book, 1984. She talked about 1984  On CNN’s Reliable Sources, in which Tumulty said “alternative facts” was a “George Orwell phrase.” Expanding on that idea in an interview today Tumulty said it reminded her of the double speak found in 1984 where “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength.”

Within Orwell’s 1984 dystopian society, “alternative facts” are actually prevarications, falsehoods. For example: Fact: The earth is spherical in shape. What would an “alternative fact” be, that the earth is flat, an idea prevalent during the Middle Ages? If I remember my earth science class correctly, Isaac Newton proved the earth is spherical in shape in the 17th century, although he was aware that Greek astronomers in the 3rd century B.C. believed as Newton did. Another example: Fact: The earth rotates around the sun, a fact Copernicus presented in the 16th century, although those savvy Greek astronomers wrote about a heliocentric universe in the 3rd century, B.C. Is an “alternative fact” one that adheres to the ancient belief that the sun rotated around the earth? Thanks to my former earth science teacher, I retained these facts. Facts are, in essence, facts, and as such are not open to “alternative facts”.

In my many years of teaching in higher education I have stressed the importance of doing one’s own work, and not resorting to plagiarism. I informed my students that anyone who cheats, likely would cheat in larger things later in life. The example I use is Bernard Madoff. There is a sense of pride in doing  one’s own work; there is little dignity in scamming from the work of another. Another salient point I present is that of the student who attempts to steer the class conversation in a different direction in order to deflect from the reality that the student did not do the homework. Or the student simply has nothing to say on the class subject because the student is so ill-informed that he tries to redirect the conversation in order not to highlight his own ignorance.

Purporting fabrications and distortions of facts and truth are behaviors we attempt to correct in children. To hear and read about adults engaging in such nefarious behavior is both an affront to our dignity and an insult to our intelligence. George Orwell understood this.

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.

The Morning After

Close-up of a plate of Fettuccine Carbonara
While I like Carbonara made with spaghetti, fettuccine or linguine may be used. The long strands of pasta better absorb the mixture and make for an enhanced taste. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

One of my favorite go-to recipes is for Spaghetti Carbonara. No only is it easy, it is also delicious! The “Carbonara” in its name comes from the freshly ground black pepper used in the recipe. Growing up, pasta of any shape was doused with a hearty red sauce, a la Southern Italy, Calabrese-style. As I ventured forth into the world, well, at least to Northern and Central Italy, my gustatory senses awakened to the variations on Spaghetti Carbonara. It was cathartic! Spaghetti Carbonara is also cheap eats, depending upon the cook’s preference for pancetta [pricey], or bacon [not so pricey]. Another factor in cost is the type of cream one uses, if indeed, one adds cream at all, which the Romans do not. It depends upon my mood as to whether or not I use cream. If I decide I do, then I prefer half-and-half versus heavy cream. Whether or not one purchases the organic variety [a bit pricier than the non-organic version] may also ramp up the thriftiness of the pasta dish.

Imagine my delight on New Year’s morning when I read the NPR piece on Bacon, Eggs, Cheese – And Spaghetti? The Italian Twist on Hangover Cure! The essay gives some historical perspective on this classic dish at http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2017/01/01/507566978/bacon-eggs-cheese-and-spaghetti-the-italian-twist-on-a-hangover-cure.

No matter how you opt to make Spaghetti Carbonara, it will not only lessen the after effects of a hangover, but will taste delizioso! Below is my riff on the ubiquitous pasta dish.

Spaghetti Carbonara.

1-pound good quality spaghetti [De Cecco pasta is my favorite,]

1-2 tablespoons good quality olive oil

6-8 ounces pancetta, or good quality bacon

4 eggs [I prefer brown eggs, cage-free, grain fed]

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese [Parmigiano-Reggiano is my preference.]

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions.

As the spaghetti cooks, in a large frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Be careful not to burn the olive oil! Add the pancetta or the bacon. Cook until lightly browned, 3 minutes or so.

Take a large pasta bowl, and then beat and blend the eggs and cream. Next, stir in ½ cup of the Parmesan cheese the ground black pepper. Pour the drained spaghetti into the pasta bowl and mix together with the eggs and cream. Blend in the pancetta or bacon, and the drippings. Be sure to coat the spaghetti well with the wet mixture and the pancetta or bacon.

Serve hot.  Garnish with Italian flat leaf parsley. Pass the grated Parmesan cheese, and even additional ground black pepper on the side to taste. Buon appetito!

Ciao for now.


Classical Music’s Glass Ceiling

Women composers of classical music shine in a new book. -www.tangledpasta.net
Women composers of classical music shine in a new book. -www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Years ago as a voice major at IU Bloomington, I remember in music literature and in music history classes hearing about compositions by Fanny Mendelssohn, ­­Felix’s sister. The professor lauded her talent, but said that Fanny was not as famous as her brother Felix because not much of her work had been published. The reasons behind this are explained in Anna Beer’s new book Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women of Classical Music. NPR’s Rachel Martin had a fascinating interview with Anna Beer about her book at: http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/05/22/478734604/sounds-and-sweet-airs-remembers-the-forgotten-women-of-classical-music?refresh=true

In Music Literature, I recall listening to a composition by Nadia Boulanger, the famous French composer, conductor, and champion of musicians. I do not, however, recollect any mention of her sister Lili Boulanger, a composer in her own right. Riveting in Beer’s book is the story of Barbara Strozzi, a Baroque Venetian singer and composer who took the surname of her Venetian patron/pimp because she was uncertain who her biological father was. Part of this courtesan’s performance for wealthy patrons was to sing erotic songs. At least Barbara was a prolific composer whose work was published.

Not unlike contentious elections today, there is a backlash directed towards women. Maybe men fear someone with a vagina [it’s dark “in there”] being elected to high political office [a man’s penis is more visible]. It is fine to have women on the Supreme Court, in the Senate, and in the House, but not in the White House. Yet Margaret Thatcher ran England for years; Angela Merkel has been at the helm of Germany for a lot of years, too. In classical music, Beer points out that even Clara Schumann, wife of Robert, the famous composer who went mad and ultimately committed suicide, was an accomplished pianist and composer in her own right. Brahms admired her greatly. He was rumored to have been in love with her. Neither Brahms’ supposed unrequited love, nor her husband Robert Schumann’s encouragement of her work got her well published.

It seems to be the age-old issue: Even with famous husbands and friends, women fail to receive their due. Perhaps because men and conservative women wish females to remain “angels in the kitchen” under male protection that creative women in classical music are still marginalized. They are promoted and supported, but how many females, with the exception of the late, great Beverly Sills run opera houses? Sills’ beloved New York City Opera vacated its Lincoln Center home of 50 years due to financial woes [opera is not cheap to run], and has been suffering ever since. The late Sarah Caldwell founded the Opera Company of Boston and she was both its director and its conductor for over thirty years. She was able to attract renowned singers Joan Sutherland, Beverly Sills, John Vickers, and Placido Domingo to perform with her Opera Company of Boston.The late Carol Fox was one of the founders of Chicago’s Lyric Opera; Ardis Krainik took over until 1997 and ran it until her death. Her successor was a man. Soprano Renée Fleming became Chicago Lyric Opera’s  first musical consultant in 2010, but she is not the manager who actually runs the show.

Classical music abounds with female performers of brilliance as conductors, composers, and performers. One of the few modern-day female conductors in the U.S. is Sebrina Maria Alfonso, Music Director of the South Florida Symphony, http://southfloridagaynews.com/Music/lesbian-conductor-breaks-down-barriers-in-classical-music-world.html.

Thanks to author Anna Beer, Sounds and Sweet Airs: The Forgotten Women in Classical Music sheds light on intellectually brave and creative women who continued composing and performing in spite of restrictive societal roles thrust upon them. They are “forgotten women” no more.

Ciao for now.



The Loss of Innocence

Our Italian creche -tangledpasta.net
Our Italian crèche -tangledpasta.net

Last week I had planned on writing about preparations for Christmas.  However, my focus abruptly changed as I listened to NPR about the savage killings in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday, December 14.   It seemed surreal:  How could a sick twisted individual gun down six and seven-year old first grade students, teachers, and administrators?  Why in the name of all that is good and holy would the mother of her deranged son hand him firepower, and take him to a shooting range for target practice. To kill even one child is to extinguish one of the lights of our future, one of our hopes for our world.

As a parent, my first instinct was to embrace my daughter and not let her go when she arrived home from college late in the afternoon of December 14.  The anguish of the Sandy Hook Elementary School parents, the grieving families of the teachers and staff has resonated throughout our nation ever since the harrowing news was transmitted.  We are appalled. We are heartbroken.  Twenty children brimming with wide-eyed wonder at the fascinating world around them, drinking it in with boundless enthusiasm were savagely taken for no apparent reason other than the fury of a lunatic.  We grope for answers; we attempt to find reason in the unfathomable.

Yet we take heart in knowing these children will be remembered as always loving, perennially smiling, sweetly affectionate, and robust in the happiness they shared with their family, friends, and community.  Somehow since last Friday, I cannot spontaneously hug my child enough, cannot tell her often enough how much I love her, cannot bear the thought that harm could come to her.  Every time I have seen a child since last Friday, I smile more broadly than usual [and I am a pretty smiley individual] at both the child and the parent.

I read that a woman traveled from Iowa to Newtown with little idea other than to help.  She somehow connected with others who had decided to bake pies for the good people of Newtown.  This story resonated with me because I always make baked rigatoni or soup for those who are coping with a sick family member or with a death in the family.  One thing we Italians know how to do well is to provide nourishment.

It is the small moments, I intone to myself; it is the rituals of family and tradition that we share that add up to life, as my family knows it.

I read that some folks in Newtown are conflicted about putting up a Christmas tree.  Maybe other families felt the menorah candles had lost their meaning.   As I gaze at our Christmas tree on these overcast days, I take heart in white lights, the Italian angel atop the tree, the crèche and Advent wreath radiate hope.  The Holy Family fled King Herod’s murderous soldiers, as Mary was about to give birth.  Mary and Joseph found the strength to protect their child. We too will find the courage to keep Christmas in our hearts. While innocence seems lost for now, hope is not.

Merry Christmas, Blessed Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa, and all in-between to all.