The Bell Tolls Once Again

Paris artists and booksellers set up their work each day along the Seine under the watchful eye of Notre Dame. -
Paris artists and booksellers set up their work each day along the Seine under the watchful eye of Notre Dame. –

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

We yearn to make the world to be a better, safer place for our children. We want the world to be alive with possibilities for our future generations. We want the world to have learned from its past, not to repeat its transgressions.

Yet look at what the world has become, or perhaps we should reflect upon what it still is. We think, “bad things happen” to people, to cultures in other parts of the world, not in ours. And then September 11, 2001 shattered our sense of security, of our complaisance.

Lately we have read and seen in the media the migrant crisis sweeping across Europe. Images of poor unfortunates who have lost possessions, indeed, with alarming frequency, their very lives, in attempting to flee oppression, persecution, fear, hate, and economics in hopes of a better condition for their families. We of all people should understand their plight: We are still a relatively young nation built upon the backs of immigrants.

Many of us love the City of Light. Paris is truely A Moveable Feast, as famed author Ernest Hemingway wrote. While the grandeur of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, The Louvre, The Eiffel Tower, and countless other stunning structures and hallowed venues loom large in Paris, for me, it is the Parisians themselves I cherish. I have found them to be kind, helpful, witty, humorous, creative, and astute. The horrors vested upon those at Charlie Hebro broke hearts, or at least the hearts among those that value human life and free speech. Yesterday’s tragic events jarred the French and the caring world to their very core. People at a soccer match, at an alternative rock concert, and those simply enjoying their Friday evening at charming cafes, were catapulted into savage acts wrought by madmen.

Maybe that is the crux of the matter anymore: The value of human life matters not to those who are hell bent on annihilating it. Furthermore, it is incomprehensible to those who have a moral core to understand those who lack one. We offer solace to those who have lost family, friends, and acquaintances. We attempt to make sense of the insanity, of the unfathomable, yet we come up short. In the end, all we can do is press on, holding our loved ones close, maintaining our integrity, praying, and continuing to try to make the world a safer, saner place than the one we now have before us. Sadly, the bell tolls across France once again.

Ciao for now.

Le Chat Bleu

Coco Chanel resting -
Coco Chanel resting –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

I love Saturday mornings.   My bed’s mattress is plush, like a floating cloud.  My pillows are delightfully firm and are covered with Italian linen pillowcases, very enticing for a summer night’s sleep, which is why on this particular Saturday morning I didn’t appreciate Coco Chanel the Cat strolling up my side, which caused me to roll over on my back, thereby enabling her to plant herself squarely in front of my face. I blinked and saw her green eyes peering back at me.

“Chanel, go play with your Plaid Mouse toy,” I pleaded.

Suddenly I started: I thought I was dreaming:  Her paws were bright blue.

I nearly fell out of bed in my haste to scrutinize those formerly white paws.  I hightailed it into the bathroom, the kitchen, the living room, the study, the sunroom, to no avail.  There was no spillage of blue anything, anywhere.  Upon reaching the dining room, I skidded to a halt.  The day before, my daughter decided to pull out her paints and canvases.  Beyond the artist’s easel that held a large unfinished canvas of several years ago, lay a newly painted blue canvas with two paw prints on it.  I picked up Coco Chanel, studied the paw prints and realized that she must have strolled across the canvas in the wee hours of the morning.  True to her catness, Coco Chanel, had manifested intense interest in t brush strokes as Anjelica painted, but the cat had backed away from the paint itself.

Coco Chanel must have overcome her reservations of the paint sometime before 8:24 a.m., the time she bounded up on my sleeping self.  When Anjelica checked her white bedspread, she found little blue paw prints in patterns across the bed.  The painted paws must have dried prior to leaping on my bed.

Blue-footed Coco Chanel -
Blue-footed Coco Chanel –

Frantic to remove the paint from Chanel’s paws, I was uncertain whether or not the cat had ingested paint.  It turned out to be a non-toxic, water-based oil paint, but was it toxic for cats?  We tried sticking her paws in tepid water and then rubbing them with a clean, soft washcloth to no avail.  I phoned the local Vet Emergency Clinic, which referred me to the APCA Animal Poison Control at 888-548-2423.  This outfit maintains a huge database of information on toxins.  The individual at Animal Poison Control asked me multiple questions, and then had read information on the Grumbacher MAX 2 Thalo Blue tube of paint.

Here is what we had to do:

1.  Pay the $65 Consultation Fee.

2.  Rub either vegetable oil or butter on her blue paws to loosen the paint.  Coco Chanel is a Julia Child disciple in that she is always angling to eat butter.  We used butter.

3.  Wipe off the butter.

4.  Spread Palmolive Dish Soap on the blue paws.

5.  Rinse the paws to remove the Palmolive soap.

6.  Dry the paws.

7.  Clip any remaining blue painted fur from her paws.

8.  If the cat drools, vomits, or refuses food over the next two hours, take her to the Vet Emergency Clinic immediately with the Animal Poison Control Case Number.  No further charges would be incurred for further consultation with Poison Control for this case.

Here are the results of said advice:

1.  We thanked our lucky stars our seven-pound cat didn’t have her front claws             because to say she was resistant to our efforts would be a gross understatement.

2.  Anjelica and I were covered in butter, Palmolive soap, and black and white             cat fur. Cats release fur when stressed.

3.  The cat did not drool, vomit, or refuse food; however, for some hours she did refute our attempts to pet her or be anywhere near her.

4.  We opted not to further stress the cat or ourselves by clipping the long fur on her feet.

5.  Anjelica plans to frame the canvas of Coco Chanel’s paw prints.

6.  Coco Chanel’s paws are now light blue.

The remains of the paint will ultimately vanish from Coco Chanel's paws -
The remains of the paint will ultimately vanish from Coco Chanel’s paws –

Ciao for now.



“Gloriana, Frangipana…”

Anjelica's decorated college mortar board cap -
Anjelica’s decorated college mortar board cap –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi   

   We awakened at 6:22 a.m. on Saturday, May 4, 2013 for Anjelica’s IU Bloomington graduation, scheduled for 10:00 a.m.  IU was graduating over 4,000 undergraduate students on that day.  Students had to be organized to process into Assembly Hall according to their School or College.  I trekked into Assembly Hall with streams of other parents at 8:10 a.m.  I was directed to entrance G, near the School of Journalism graduates.  I saved a seat for my brother. 

We listened to the speakers and waited for The Moment.  When the Provost announced that the School of Journalism Class of 2013 had fulfilled the requirements for a Bachelor of Arts degree, Anjelica pulled the burgundy tassel atop her mortar board cap from the right to the left.   The number 2013 she had fastened diagonally in clear glass stones across the top of the cap sparkled under the lights of Assembly Hall.  Thousands of students of the Class of 2013 stood up to cheer and shout, as did their families.

I tried to hold back joyful tears of four years of watching my daughter navigate the campus I so loved as she made it her own.  Four years of observing her transform from a shy introverted first year college student into a poised self-assured young woman.  Four years of cheering her on with coursework she embraced.  Four years of seeing her make friends, reveling in sorority life, its philanthropy, and in campus jobs.  Four years of guarding her from afar with prayers and wishes.

On Friday evening, The School of Journalism hosted a reception for its graduates.  It was a pleasure to meet professors whom Anjelica admired so much:  The Ernie Pyle scholar with whom she and a select group of students traveled with abroad “In the Footsteps of Ernie Pyle” to London, Paris, and Normandy; the professor from whom she learned much about magazine and newspaper editing; the media lab professor, for whom she has worked as a lab assistant the past year; and the audio story-telling course professor who opened new vistas in radio for my child. After good conversation with these particular professors, I understood better how much they had come to mean to my daughter.

With heartfelt embraces, she and her sorority sisters bid one another adieu.  They planned to see each other in their own different states. They helped us pack up both of our SUVs.   The rain poured in deluge fashion, soaking us to the bone as we raced up and down the stairs, and back out to the cars, vainly attempting to keep everything dry.

Anjelica leaves her John Hancock for posterity -
Anjelica the graduate leaves her John Hancock for posterity –

Hungry and thirsty, we decided to grab a bite at Mother Bear’s Pizza, “for auld lang syne”.  As I finished my Stromboli and eyed the graffiti scrawled on the wooden walls of the booth, I asked Anjelica if she had carved her name in Mother Bear’s time-honored tradition.  She hadn’t.  I handed her a pen.  Might as well leave a bit for posterity, I replied.  She took the pen and immortalized her name on the wall.

We hugged one another, and climbed into our roadsters to commence the long rain-soaked melancholy road north.

Ciao for now.


Letting Go

Sorority Formal -
Sorority Formal –















By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi


Today I sit in the library of the law school my daughter is again visiting.  I am the chauffeur for the second look at this law school located less than ninety minutes from our home.  While she has several other schools to visit over Spring Break, this law school feels like coming home, not only because of the geographical proximity to our hometown, but because of the impression the students, faculty, and staff have made.

I am seated next to a series of large windows overlooking a forested area surrounding   the law school.  The beauty of the landscape is impressive.  Even the adjacent 1870’s building, recently refurbished, exudes a classical aura.  The gray squirrels scampering across the courtyard between the law buildings struck a piquant note with me, perhaps since only chunky chestnut colored squirrels raid our bird feeder at home.

This whole experience has a curious sense of déjà vu about it:  Over four years ago I accompanied Anjelica on a return visit for prospective admitted undergraduate students at the university she ultimately attended.  She was excited and nauseous at the prospect of going away to college.  In spite of her trepidation and tears, she forged ahead.  That first semester was rough emotionally.  Her cadre of high school friends had scattered; only she had opted for the gargantuan campus downstate.  But once she hit her stride, she thrived; once she pledged a sorority, went to London and Paris with several favorite professors, she never looked back.

We arrive again at a crossroads.  Four years older, more poised, more confident, ready to tackle law school, she begins to pursue her dream. Gazing at her, I remember when I decided to chase a graduate degree in linguistics. That same fire blazes in her about studying law.  Sometimes she worries maybe she will find law school is not her cup of tea.

“If it’s not, then you go with your Backup Plan.  The world won’t end,” I tell her.

I do not need to reinvent any perceived thwarted academic aspirations through her.  While we talk or text almost daily, I understand that she has begun to live her life, knowing I am her familial anchor, come what may.

I continue to learn how to gently let go as she soars into becoming the Anjelica of her own invention.

Ciao for now.

Viva Las Vegas! Part I

The Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.
The Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The Fountains of Bellagio as seen from the Par...
The Fountains of Bellagio as seen from the Paris Las Vegas hotel, across the Strip from the Bellagio. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now that the jet lag has subsided, the suitcases have been unpacked, and the groceries replenished, we turn our attention to bringing our voyage into a coherent perspective.

We celebrated my daughter’s 21st birthday in Las Vegas, Nevada, which is three hours behind our Heartland time zone; hence, the jet lag.  Her Fourth of July birthday this year was celebrated in grand style during our stay at The Bellagio Hotel.  For years I assiduously had avoided Las Vegas:  It seemed too glitzy and too cheesy for my elevated taste.  Furthermore, I am not a gambling woman, at least not with the color of my own money.  Initially, ringing in her 21st birthday in Dublin, Ireland seemed feasible.  The only problem with that idea was that the Irish do not celebrate our Fourth of July.  In the end, a particular performer proved to be the main draw for my daughter; consequently, to the Land of Las Vegas we schlepped.

Once we settled on Las Vegas as a Fourth of July birthday venue, the decision of where to stay reared its head.  Having already been to Venice, Italy five times, the idea of a reduced replica of the Grand Canal held little appeal.  Having shopped on the Veneto in the aforementioned real Venice, the Venetian shops in Las Vegas’ Venetian were not our cup of cappuccino.  Having been to Paris, France and its Eiffel Tower, Las Vegas’ Paris with its reduced sized Eiffel Tower replica was less than appealing, although our 16th floor Lake View room at The Bellagio was situated directly across from The Paris and its Eiffel Tower whose night lights provided a lovely backdrop to The Bellagio’s gorgeous Fountains and accompanying music.

Like a guilty pleasure, my ardor swelled:  I fell for Las Vegas, or, more to the point, I fell for The Bellagio.  Its Art Museum had an exhibit of Monet paintings on loan from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.  Bellagio’s Art Museum was a jewel of a place tucked off the beaten path of the casino, away from the exotic swimming pool, and never ending foot traffic.  The Monet paintings were stunning, as only Monet’s artwork can be.  After consulting with my favorite travel agent, an Italian friend named Mary, we decided upon The Bellagio over The Venetian.  The deal breaker for me was The Bellagio’s art.  Where else could we dine exquisitely in Las Vegas surrounded by Picasso’s artwork, other than at Bellagio’s Picasso restaurant?   Reluctantly, we finally had to leave the Bellagio, its fine dining, magnificent fountains, and hospitable staff.  We will someday return to partake of its delights again.

Ciao for now.