The New Year Hath Begun

Snow Photo

Light breaks through the winter landscape for January 2018.-www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

Knock on wood: five days into the New Year and so far, I have avoided tripping, increased illness, and damage to myself in general. Not only does the temperature remain well below freezing, several mishaps befell me as the previous year drew to a close. Yet I remain confident the weather will warm up to at least above freezing in another week or so, and that I will rebound.

After having spent a wonderful day in Fort Wayne with my aunt, uncle, and cousin visiting from L.A., I drove home in a snow sleet storm. The conversation lively, the food excellent, and the tea and coffee at their home warmed my heart. Their company offered a sweet post-Christmas get together. Later, driving at 40 miles an hour, I didn’t make great time, but I managed to drive us home safely while enduring white out conditions.

As the morning broke, I found myself as sick as could be with a vile virus. Between the terrible cold weather and my overall malaise, I dosed myself with over-the-counter medications in the cabinet. In the wee hours of the morning, I stepped into the bathroom, and promptly tripped over something. I catapulted into the side of the porcelain bathtub on my right shoulder, and then crashed onto the tile floor on my right hip. Failure to turn on the bathroom light, my negligence in not stepping into sturdy slippers, my lack of vision wear, plus items left on the bathroom floor, combined to form a perfect storm of catastrophe. I had taken sinus and congestion medication before retiring for the night, which resulted in fuzzy thought processes, or lack thereof. Or I simply chose not to put away items.

At the risk of sounding like Lazarus, I was in tremendous pain, unable to get off the bathroom floor. EMS guys managed to hoist me up and into a straight back chair. After checking me over and evaluating my walk, they determined nothing had been broken. They suggested taking me for further evaluation at the hospital, but the winter wind whipping around outside held little appeal in my mind to venture out. The EMS personnel and the three firemen offered kind words and compliments about our Christmas decorations and outdoor lights. After they left, I spend the remainder of the night attempting to sleep in a recliner.

Thus, I remained inside during the blustery New Year’s weekend, making use of a heating pad and drinking copious amounts of green tea. It turned out that Coco Chanel, our little black and white cat, had developed a proclivity for the heating pad. Whenever she now sees me plug it in, she races to pounce upon it. We now share it. Last night I had a glass of wine with a slice of Whole Foods pizza. I have imbibed enough tea and water. I am still smarting over not having been able to toast the New Year with a glass of bubbly. Perhaps it is not too late to toast the New Year. Tonight I will fill my glass with the gentle fizz of Prosecco and ring in the New Year. It’s never too late!

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.

 

 

A Big Birthday

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Various kinds of pizza are needed to celebrate a birthday! – tangled pasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Yesterday we honored my paternal uncle in celebrating his 98th birthday. He is the last of my father’s siblings, a family of three sisters and three brothers. My Italian immigrant father passed away just shy of 96, long after he had later brought his two younger brothers to the U.S. For various reasons, his three sisters remained in southern Italy. From 1933 onwards, my father’s family became geographically divided. Yet they always remained in touch throughout those many years.

Last night at the pizza party my cousins held for their father, I thought about how brave my father and his brothers were to come to a foreign country without having learned any English prior to their arrival, and with little money in their pockets. Granted, my father had a cousin who encouraged him to come to his newly adopted town, but to take that ship from Naples and sail to New York’s Ellis Island required a great leap of faith. Yet the three brothers all built new lives here, married, raised families, practiced their faith, and prospered in their own ways.

Last night my uncle looked on cheerfully as we circulated among one another, talking, laughing, and having a fine time. I thought about how much my late aunt, his wife, would have loved having the family together. Her good nature would have embraced the festivities. We all miss her very much, especially my uncle. Sometimes when I visit him, he says, “I don’t know why I’m here! For what?” I answer that he is now the patriarch of our family, that we need him to lead us. He tells me that I’m crazy, that no one needs him anymore. But he is wrong: he is the living link to our past, not that we think of him as a museum specimen, rather to know that we can turn to him for our family history and anecdotes. He reminds us from whence we came, of the struggles, the milestones, the essence of what makes us, for all intents and purposes, us.

Ciao for now.

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.

 

Writing Spirited Constellations

Ponte Vecchio Bridge
Ponte Vecchio bridge across Arno River in the evening Florence Italy – One of my favorite places in la bella firenze! – http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

Several individuals have asked me how I manage to write, given that I work full-time. The answer I usually give is that I have no social life! This is only partially true, for I am neither hermit, nor social misfit by any means!

I derive great satisfaction out of writing. It provides a creative outlet of endless possibilities for me. After work, I may dine out with a friend about once every other week. Generally on the weekends, I may get together with friends for an evening. Somehow I manage to write around these gatherings. This weekend, for example, is devoted exclusively to writing. Friday after work, I filled up the gas tank at Costco, and then I stepped into the store itself ostensibly for one item, yet managed to emerge with fresh mozzarella, spicy avocado hummus, blueberries, mixed fresh fruit [mango, strawberries, melon], celery [to be stuffed with the hummus], pierogies –something I rarely eat [filled with kale, potato, and lemon], and cheese pizza. Noshing my way through Costco after work on Friday relaxes me, as did the glass of Pinot Grigio with a slice of pizza at home, which relaxed me further.

To write a novel demands uninterrupted time. I cannot focus with a barrage of e-mail, texts, phone calls, or the neighbor’s country music distracting my attention. I respond when I take a writing break. Figuring out characters, plots, dialogue, and the narrative itself require my full attention. When I know, or when I am able to spontaneously get together with friends, I plan my writing time around these events. This holds true for holidays, celebrations, and vacations [something I have not had in nearly two years].

The first book in the Spirited Constellations series came together fairly quickly – in about three months. A steady dose of winter blizzards helped enormously in this regard. I holed up at home and wrote and wrote and wrote over snow days from work, and on blessed weekends. Now I find myself longing for winters filled with inclement weather to keep me steady with writing. If I resided in Montana, I am sure I could write more than a book or two during those kinds of winters!

While I am writing the third book in the Spirited Constellations series, I have been developing another series quite different from my paranormal one. The first book in that series is completed, and the second one is nearly so. Another series is swirling around in my head, yet I have not put pen to paper. But I will soon enough. And then there is that memoir I in the works, too.

Throughout my life I have been comfortable working solo; I don’t require an entourage around me. I do not need to map out my week with social appointments. When I get together with friends, it means more because those moments are rare. Writing is a solitary activity, one that I embrace.

Ciao for now.

 

 

Calzone, A Different Concept In Pizza Dough

Like pizza, calzone lends itself to all sorts of meats and vegetables. - tangledpasta.net
Like pizza, calzone lends itself to all sorts of meats and vegetables. – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Under the gray skies of winter, when the temperature in the sub-zero range, sometimes I make calzone. I like calzone piping hot, and stuffed full of sausage, cheese, bell peppers, and marinara sauce. It makes me happy to smell the fragrant calzone, and to watch the contents surge forth onto my plate after I have cut into the bread. Oddly enough, I do not crave calzone in the summer, in the warm weather months, only during the frigid winter ones. A glass of vino rosso – red wine, the ubiquitous calzone, even a small salad help sate my cold weather cravings.

Making calzone is relatively easy. Ingredients may be adjusted to one’s taste and liking.  Sometimes I use whatever vegetables I have on hand that I think would meld well with the calzone concept.  My calzone of choice is made with Italian sausage. Here is the recipe:

Take a pound of fresh or frozen bread dough, and roll it into into a circle. Drizzle with olive oil. Next, take around a pound of sausage – no casings, and brown it for about ten minutes or so, drain off the fat. Combine the sausage with one-fourth teaspoon fennel, one to two sautéed bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms tossed with red pepper flakes to taste. Add a cup of marinara sauce.  Place one to two cups of shredded mozzarella or provolone on top of the dough. Be sure to leave at least a half of an inch border of dough visible. Top the dough and cheese with the sausage and sauce mixture. Scatter several tablespoons of cornmeal over a baking sheet. Place the calzone round on the baking sheet. Fold the dough over the filling, and then press the edges with one’s fingers or with a fork to seal completely. Bake the calzone for about twenty minutes or until nicely browned and puffed. Be sure to have extra heated marinara sauce on hand to add to the calzone. Grated Parmesan cheese may be sprinkled on top the warm calzone.

Pour that glass of vino rosso, and start feasting on the calzone!

Ciao for now.