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.


“Romeo, Romeo, Wherefore Art Thou, Romeo?”

Romeo is so beautiful, even the angels weep. -
Romeo is so beautiful, even the angels weep. –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

   The other evening I was reading a review of the much-hyped Broadway production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.  This latest version stars Orlando Bloom.  While I do not personally know Mr. Bloom, I do know that his was the most gorgeous face in Pirates of the Caribbean.  He was even prettier than Kiera Knightley, and he possesses the more intriguing name, not that it is totally relevant, but I thought I would highlight my fascination with his name.  Mr. Bloom garnered rave reviews from Ben Brantley in The New York Times, which are the reviews one wants for Broadway.  Nora Ephron pointed out the power of a NY Times review in regard to a play of hers that did not receive a power positive review some years ago.  In her last book, I Remember Nothing, she chronicles the gnawing wound of a failure, and the potent trajectory of what a fine review in the venerable newspaper can do for a play or film.

Which brings me to Leonard Whiting. Not that this is the smoothest of segues from Orlando Bloom to Nora Ephron to Leonard Whiting, but it kind of works, so I am going to let it slide.  In Franco Zeffarelli’s 1968 film version of Romeo and Juliet, my eyes were riveted to that Romeo as Shakespeare’s glorious words tumbled easily from his doomed hero’s mouth.  “She doth teach the torches to burn brightly,” Romeo marvels upon first laying eyes upon Olivia Hussey’s Juliet.  Small wonder, for this Juliet was drop dead stunning, as was this particular Romeo.  When I saw the photos of Orlando Bloom as Romeo, I had that same kind of amazement.  Maybe it is the wide-set, soulful eyes, the finely chiseled features, and the ripper bods, I mean the sculpted chests of both of these Romeos, coupled with their sonorous voices, although I admit I have not seen Mr. Bloom’s Broadway Romeo, but knowing he first appears onstage clad in black leather, riding a motorcycle, makes me think his voice is just icing on the visual cake.  Admittedly, I eschew the modern trappings of period pieces, I looked beyond the contemporary setting and saw only Mr. Bloom, much like I did when I viewed Leonardo DiCaprio in Romeo + Juliet [a most silly spectacle of a film].

What does it all mean?  For one thing I count it a blessing that my heart can still quicken its pace over a hunky rendition of man.   For another, it means I am able to at least momentarily gaze beyond the outward beauty of the man and appreciate the rhythms of Shakespeare.  I must put Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet into the DVD player tonight and let the sonorous sounds of The Bard wash over me as I am transported to “…Verona where we lay our scene, where ancient grudge lay to new mutiny…”

Ciao for now.


Forever Friends

My lifelong friend -
My lifelong friend –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Admittedly, I was careless about friendships in my halcyon days of youth.  I traveled a great deal, worked a lot, and socialized much with whoever my cadre of friends were at that moment.  Instead of corresponding via letter, this was, after all, pre-e-mail/

Skype/FaceTime, I exchanged letters with friends for a while, but then was off and running wherever.  This pattern persisted for a number of years.  Some individuals I should have shaken off immediately, others I should have kept close to my heart.  While I cannot rewrite my past follies, I can revel in the enduring friendship with my dear friend Juliet.

After completing my undergraduate degree in English, but not in Music, I traveled for several months in Europe.  When the funds dwindled, I returned Stateside, and took a job with a travel agency. A year of sending others on trips was enough for me.  I resolved to finish my Music degree, and thus returned to IU.  The day I entered the classroom, I encountered a lively group of music students.  The leader of the pack seemed to be a blond with a quick smile, spontaneous laugh, and Southern accent I’d heard in only in Westerns.  I took a seat across from this spirited individual.  She smiled at me, and I back.

“Hey!” she said, “I don’t know y’all.  I’m Juliet.  My eyebrows rose.  “I’m from Houston.”  That explained the distinctive twang.

She played the bassoon; I sang.  For the next several years we shared a lot, drank a bit, performed often [in the School of Music, you naughty readers], and shared our secrets and dreams.  She introduced me to her orchestra friends; I introduced her to my then on-again, off-again inamorato, a pianist. The last time I saw her at IU was shortly before she left for a two-year gig with the Guadalajara Orchestra in Mexico.

I never did complete my Music degree; I had become enamored with Linguistics.  Off to graduate school I went.  Several years later I wound up in Houston, visiting a former linguistics classmate.  Although I knew Juliet was in Mexico, I phoned her parents anyway.  Her father handed the phone to her.   The gig hadn’t achieved nirvana.

The short version of this tale is that I wound up teaching at the University of Houston; Juliet completed her Master’s degree in Music at Rice.  Thanks to Juliet and her parents, I had a second family in them during my ten years in Houston.  After I married and returned to The Heartland, crying every step of the way, Juliet sent me university job notifications in Houston, would call to talk with me about them.

While my marriage didn’t last, hers did.  I chose to raise my daughter in The Heartland around my family, but Juliet and I remained fast friends.  We visit each other once a year in different cities, talk on the phone, and communicate through social media.

We haven’t really stopped talking since 1977.

Ciao for now.