Houston, Part 4

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I purchased this “Don’t Mess With Texas!” pillow at Buc-ee’s. – http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

   Although we knew we would have to soon leave Houston and our friends, I felt compelled to share a new phenomenon, to me at least, called Buc-ee’s. My friend Juliet rhapsodized about the wonders of Buc-ee’s. With her hearty endorsement of it, we stopped at the one located between Galveston and Houston on the Gulf Freeway, IH 45 South, near Texas City. The Houston Chronicle’s article, “25 amazing things you probably didn’t know about Buc-ee’s”, by Craig Hlavaty, on March 10, 2016, enlightened me further about the wonder that is Buc-ee’s, lengthy queue of gasoline pumps, or fueling stations, of which there must have been about 80 (the Buc-ee’s in New Braunfels, Texas has 120), initially caught my eye. A sign read “No eighteen wheelers allowed” and this made for a unique visit. The mammoth “convenience store” itself spanned somewhere in the vicinity of 55,000 to 80,000 square feet. This is what I love about Texas: everything is bigger and better. Having lived in Houston for 10 years, I can attest to this! I never saw as much jerky as I did at Buc-ee’s: beef, duck, turkey, you name it, they had it in the cleanest deli area I have ever seen. The Texas Round Up sandwich area one could purchase pulled pork, brisket, sausage, and turkey sandwiches. Salads were sold in the deli area too. In fact, the entire enterprise was as sparkling clean as could be.

Which brings me to the subject of restrooms. Buc-ee’s has even won the “Best Restroom in America” award from Cintas. I made use of the facilities and was impressed! Not only was the tile work impressive, but also each stall had a hand sanitizer dispenser! The restrooms are cleaned every hour. They were spic and span! Wandering through the wide aisles of food, clothing, candy, deli offerings, coffee café, and gift items provided delight and amazement. Buc-ee’s is an oasis on the highways and byways of Texas, and one not to be missed.

Tuesday morning dawned all too soon. With heavy hearts we said our goodbye to our dear Houston friends. As we left the sun, warmth, and friends, and boarded our Southwest Airlines flight to Chicago, we knew we would relive our wonderful week in Houston many times over in the days to come.

Ciao for now.

 

 

 

Houston, Part 3

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River Oaks is a beautiful, storied area of Houston. Flowers and trees abounded for our Spring hungry eyes! – http://www.tangledpasta.net

IMG_5391 Galveston, Texas, where we stood and watched people, seagulls, and tankers. http://www.tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi |@MaryAnnaVioli

On Sunday, the day after The Wedding, Juliet, Anjelica and I headed to Galveston. Again blue skies and Texas sunshine smiled upon us. We parked the car and walked around an area overlooking a quiet beach, further away from the Spring Break mob near the bustling thoroughfare. At this quieter locale with its rocky seawall opening onto a sandy beach, we listened to the lapping water, inhaled the salty air, and watched slow-moving tankers further offshore in the bay. We then commenced on a driving tour to get our bearings. Galveston had enjoyed a great construction spurt; colorful condos and clever named eateries had proliferated since my years of living in Houston. My friends and I used to hop in my car and head for a day in Galveston to escape the noise and rabble of Houston. One Christmas time, we descended upon The Bishop’s Palace . Its decorations were legendary and so they were.

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Vibrant colored condos line several blocks along Seawall Boulevard, overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. http://www.tangledpasta.net

We trolled a picturesque part of the city in search of an appealing, open restaurant. Several we honed in on turned out to be closed on Sundays. Observing people on the sidewalks, we opted to park the car and conduct a food search on foot on a tree-laced side street. A charming corner café offering authentic Mexican fare beckoned. By this time our hunger pangs had increased, even as we enjoyed the pretty street with plenty of palm trees waving in the gentle breeze. The warm, homemade chips and tangy red salsa and a green salsa proved hard to resist as we examined the menu. Finally, we placed our order: grouper tacos for Anjelica, a chicken quesadilla for Juliet, and a shrimp taco salad for me. Delicious and well worth the wait!

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The grouper tacos Anjelica ordered at the Mexican restaurant in Galveston, Texas. http://www.tangledpasta.net

IMG_5353   In front of the corner Mexican restaurant where we dined in Galveston, markers indicating how high the water rose during the hurricanes of 1915, 1900, and 1961. http://www.tanledpasta.net

After our late lunch, we wandered into several antique shops, one of which consisted of nautical antiques. The scent of the shop can best be described as briny. All sorts of ship-related wares from mermaid mastheads and large bells to plates and service ware abounded. If a person wanted to decorate a beach house, this would be the place to come! A few doors down, another antique shop sold large armoires and china cabinets, in addition to exquisite glassware and porcelain. Furniture and side tables and knickknacks, too, had been carefully preserved, polished and shined at this fine emporium. This had been Anjelica’s first time to Galveston, and she gave it her stamp of approval.

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The Galveston Opera House, conveniently located next to a pub! http://www.tangledpasta.net

On our final full day in Houston, we had lunch with Anjelica’s good friend Emily and her darling baby at Backstreet Café in River Oaks. I thoroughly enjoyed dining with friends as I ate my Poached Seafood Salad laden with shrimp, scallops, and calamari. We said farewell to Emily and her baby. We then engaged in sightseeing through leafy River Oaks. It’s filled with mansions, well-appointed lawns, and is a treasure trove of story folklore.

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The lovely River Oaks photo is worth repeating! http://www.tangledpasta.net

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.

 

 

Houston, Part 1

 

 

Bouquet of fresh flowers for the wedding ceremony.

The bride’s colors were purple and light pink. Her dress had long lace sleeves, a v-neck, and layers of sheer white, and a cathedral length veil that flowed like a poem. The bridesmaids wore long gowns with purple sequins on the top, and layers of sheer lavender organza on the bottom. The groom looked dashing in a charcoal gray tux and vest with a pink bow tie. His groomsmen were decked out in purple ties with matching vests under their gray tuxes.

By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli

We spent a memorable week in Houston with dear friends Juliet and Mark. We celebrated their daughter Ann’s wedding with their family. I rejoiced in returning to a city and friends who are like family to me. The rehearsal dinner proved lively and tasty with chicken and shrimp as the main events. The next day, the bride was stunning and the groom handsome, the service sweet, and the reception rollicking, in the best of Texas traditions! The weather smiled upon the bridal party and the rest of us, with blue skies, sunshine, and 80-degree weather. We had shaken off the cold, dreary, grey northern Indiana skies the minute we landed in Houston. We readily embraced all that Texas sunshine!

We spent an afternoon several days prior to the wedding, placing white linens on the reception’s 28 tables in the Clear Lake Methodist Church’s Hall. We then arranged the silky purple and pink runners over each round table. The soon-to-be bride and groom spend copious amounts of their free time playing games with their friends. Board games, card games, bingo, word games, you name it, the couple and their friends play it. Therefore, in lieu of traditional floral arrangements, games were the name of the centerpieces! We arranged large and small die that Juliet had hand-painted and decorated, and assorted games on the center of each table. Sheets of Wedding Bingo and word games were handed out after the Wedding Luncheon.

Saturday morning arrived and wedding verve permeated the air. At 11:30 a.m., classically trained musicians began a 30-minute concert of sumptuous music. Thereafter, Miss Patsy, the grandmother of the bride, Juliet, the mother of the bride, and the mother of the groom were escorted and seated. The groom and his groomsmen assumed their positions, the bridesmaids, and matron of honor Janelle processed into the church. The flower girl and ring bearer played their parts without a wrinkle. The music then swelled, as Mark proudly walked his daughter Ann down the aisle. The minister has known Ann for years; he gave a fine sermon about marriage and commitment. When he pronounced them man and wife, and said to Karl, “You may kiss the bride,” Karl gave Ann a Hollywood kiss! I was proud of them, for I had suggested such a kiss several nights before the wedding as they were practicing the kiss at Ann’s family home. Whether he remembered my suggestion, or they Googled “wedding kisses”, the kiss sealed the deal.

The pork loin tasted moist and delicious, as did the side dishes at the luncheon. In high spirits we participated in the games, noshed at the Sweet and Salty snacks table, and danced to contemporary tunes the DJ spun. I conversed with old friends and met knew people at this joyous wedding reception. Later, we lined up outside and blew little bubbles with pink wands and cheered as Karl carried Ann to his big, shiny, white truck. Their faces wreathed in smiles, the newlyweds set off on a two-week honeymoon amid heartfelt wishes for a long, happy life together.

Ciao for now.

Friday Night Lights

Friday Night Lights - tangledpasta.net
Friday Night Lights – tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

One of the few television programs I watched was Friday Night Lights.  Now I am able to relive the excitement of the show through Netflix.  In as much as I relish Friday Night Lights, it tugs at my heartstrings.  This has much to do with hearkening back to those Friday night football games of my small Catholic high school and the rush of adrenaline in cheering on a winning football team.

And win we did.  As the Vietnam War raged on, filling the newspapers and nightly news programs with gory scenes of war in a far off country, high school football permitted our minds to drift elsewhere, at least on Friday nights.  While race riots and urban terrorist networks burned our major cities, wreaking death and havoc nationwide, we screamed and yelled for our high school football team.  It made the chaos beyond our turf’s realm disappear, at least on Friday nights.

Years later, we reside near the local public high school that my daughter attended.  Daylight grows shorter, and dusk casts its shadows earlier than I like, yet the roar of the crowd in the high school stadium, the queues of cars up and down our residential streets, the jubilant shouts of spectators, the blasting echo of the sports announcers combine to remind me of the joy of watching a football team’s win on the field.  My high school alma mater’s team went downstate for championship games throughout my four years at the school.  To this day, photographs of those championship seasons line the walls of the school.

I played in the band for those football games of yore.  We had to have been the smallest of the area’s high school bands, but we had a young, dynamic bandleader, and our hearts were strong because we got to play our school’s fight song repeatedly throughout those four years.  Kyle Chandler, who plays Coach Eric Taylor in Friday Night Lights, has that same square-jawed look of determination that my high school’s Head Coach had.  The Assistant Coaches on Friday Night Lights remind me of the handsome ones at my alma mater during those four championship seasons.  The electric charge that runs through the Texas-based football show’s student body, boosters, team, and coaching staff, never fails to rekindle the passion of my adolescent self in the bleachers of those Friday Night Lights of yore.

Ciao for now.

Getting Together

My nephew Daniel with Cousin Marianne at our July family celebration -tangledpasta.net
My nephew Daniel with Cousin Marianne at our July family celebration -tangledpasta.net

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

   Tonight I had the good fortune of dining with my cousins.  The special occasion was a visit from Cousin Marianne’s sister-in-law, Mary Kay, from the Dallas, Texas environs.  Mary Kay’s husband, Cousin Tony remained behind in humid Texas [our Violi men traditionally dislike travel that takes them far from their homesteads].  Cousin Marianne’s sister Rita, her brother Donnie, his wife Jennifer, Marianne and husband Steve, and their daughter Chrissie were there too.  Having arrived 50 minutes late, due to a previous social engagement, I found I had just missed Zio Saverio and our Cousin Ned.  Our local Cousin Tony had to relinquish our company for football practice with the hometown Catholic team he’s coached for the past 20+ years.  The rest of us managed to make a spirited, noisy band of cousins. 

   Not only was the camaraderie exemplary, the food tasted mighty fine.  When I had the Violi Clan over in July, I served up baked rigatoni.  Cousin Marianne also makes a mean baked rigatoni.  Truth be known, we all love that rigatoni and ate it tonight con brio.  We can always count on heaps of Italian food, beverages, and family when we gather.  In the greater scheme of things, these are good to anticipate.

Cousins Tony, my brother Frank, Cousins Steve, Rita, and Zio Saverio at our Juy celebration-tangledpasta.net
Cousins Tony, my brother Frank, Cousins Steve, Rita, and Zio Saverio at our July celebration-tangledpasta.net

   No matter how much time has elapsed between our coming together en masse, we always pick up where we left off.  That is how comfortable we all are with one another; that is how long we have known one another.  Cousin Rita and I are the same age.  We grew up playing with our Barbie dolls together.  Our fathers were brothers, along with local Cousin Tony’s father. Our families met regularly and lived only a few blocks apart. While Zio Saverio is the lone living member of the original three Violi Brothers, I am grateful to have my cousins in my life.  They enrich my life immeasurably.

   Ciao for now.

 

 

Veteran’s Day, With a Dash of Panache

When my father was drafted into the U.S Army in during World War II, he posted a sign in his shoe shop window announcing that the business would be closed until he returned from the war.  Papa had been in the United States for ten years, having arrived on Ellis Island in 1933 from Southern Italy.

Ellis Island
Ellis Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Why did you come here during the Depression?” I used to ask him.

“It was-a still-a okay to work in-a the United-a-States-a.  Italy no gotta nothin’ in-a 19-a-33.  It was-a hell-a,” he told me.

Papa was first sent to Texas for basic training.

“It was-a hell-a in-a that heat,” he observed.

Farm land in Texas panhandle near Amarillo, Te...
Farm land in Texas panhandle near Amarillo, Texas. Santa Fe R.R. trip (LOC) (Photo credit: The Library of Congress)

He was then transferred to Louisiana.

“Oh, my achin’-a back,” he lamented.  “It was a swamp-a and-a humidity to kill-a horse-a,” he remarked.

Louisiana Swamp
Louisiana Swamp (Photo credit: MSMcCarthy Photography)

“Why did you have to go in the Army?  You served in the Italian Army,” I argued.

“Listen-a to me-a, Honey.  It’s a honor to serve-a you country.  America is-a my-a country.  My-a country-a need-a me.  I go-a to-a the Army, ” Papa solemnly said.

Patriotism was a duty as he saw it.

During the Vietnam War, I attended a Big 10 college where anti-war demonstrations were common.  When I locked horns with Papa over the Vietnam draft dodgers, he was unmoved.

“I no-a say this-a war is-a right.  Soldiers-a die, and that’s-a bad.  But we-a in it and that’s-a that.”

I loved my father dearly, even when we differed in our attitudes about U.S. foreign policy.  He had an unshakable faith in the country that allowed him to realize his dreams of work, family, and college-educated children.  He proudly voted, he loyally served his city, his adopted country, his church, and his family.

U.S. Flag
U.S. Flag (Photo credit: vmf-214)

Papa was a true patriot.  He was a hero who never let me or anyone else down.  On this Veteran’s Day, Papa, I can still hear your voice ringing in my ears:

“God-a Bless America!

And all of Her Veterans.

Ciao for now.