Marcella’s Way

Marcella made a fine pasta bolognese -

Marcella made a fine Pasta Bolognese –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

When I read of Marcella Hazan’s death in late September, I felt more than a twinge of nostalgia.  She had virtually no cooking skills when she arrived in the United States in 1955.  She was from the province of Emilia-Romagna, home to Bologna and Modena, to name two, an area rich in its own Italian delicacies as the heart of Northern Italian cuisine.  While she held a Ph.D. in Biology and knew her way around scientific research, she was less adept in the kitchen.  I picture her as aghast at what mainstream Americans perceived as “Italian food”:  spaghetti drenched in tomato paste, sugar and some version of canned tomatoes.  It pains me to know there are still those in the U.S. who think Chef Boyardee spaghetti in a can is authentic Italian cuisine.  I can only imagine Marcella choking on that quintessential summer repast:  hamburgers slathered in yellow mustard and dripping with ketchup, which is not all that bad if the beef and buns are from Whole Foods.  Since Whole Foods was not on the supermarket horizon in the 1950’s, my guess is that Marcella grimaced at the “new” frozen dinners that had begun to appear in frozen food cases.

Marcella was married to Victor Hazan; they had one son, Giuliano, who is also a prodigious cook.  She learned English from watching television, and she learned to cook using the lone Italian cookbook her husband had. A legendary cook began to blossom. Her tomato sauce that incorporates only tomatoes, a large onion, butter, and salt has always intrigued me.   Marcella’s is good, but I still prefer our Southern Italian family pasta sauce.  What she drove home was the importance of regional Italian cooking in its purest versions.  I loved the way she extolled the virtues of simple recipes utilizing simple ingredients.

Marcella Hazan reminded me of my own parents’ Italian cooking that used basic Italian ingredients coupled with a dash of panache.  Pasta and tomato sauce sound good on this chilly autumn evening.

Ciao for now.



Labor Day Weekend



Summer's end, The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island -

Summer’s end, The Grand Hotel, Mackinac Island, one of my favorite places

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

When I was a young sprig, the last hurrah of summer was spent swimming, fishing, and boating at our summer-house on the lake.  Amid whoops and splashes, diving, and floating, we frolicked throughout most of those sun-drenched summer days. We also feasted in between swims.  At least one Labor Day Weekend dinner included hamburgers and hot dogs on the old brick grill my grandfather had built.  There was Mama’s homemade coleslaw [light on the mayonnaise], Aunt Agnes’ potatoes and side dishes, and Aunt Adelaide’s homemade German chocolate cake.  Life was good and mighty tasty too.

We cousins knew that after we bade one another adieu on Labor Day itself, the school year commenced the next day.  Labor Day heralded the end of summer; it placed the cherry on the cake of summer.  Labor Day also paved the way to autumn.  We donned new school attire, and polished saddle shoes and penny loafers, we headed for the classroom, armed with our metal lunch boxes, and new pencil cases in hand. In an uncertain world, we could count on school commencing the day after Labor Day.  There seemed a kind of security in knowing that.

Back then we understood the cyclic nature of the seasons:  Autumn equated with school; Winter meant snowy white nights and Christmas; Spring reminded us Nature awakened; and Summer beckoned with the lure of languid days at the lake. My daughter fell prey to the lunacy of the extended school day, the elongated school year, and the mania of increased standardized testing.  School began for her in the oppressive heat and humidity of the August dog days of summer.  I haven’t observed youth getting any smarter or adept at the traditional 3 R’s of writing, reading, and arithmetic with this prolonged school year. A wave of sadness overtakes me to know that the young cannot partake in the ritual of summer’s end that Labor Day used to offer my cousins and me.

Ciao for now.



My Alma Mater, Part III

The Bell Tower on the IU Bloomington campus, steps away from my old graduate school apartment -

The Bell Tower on the IU Bloomington campus, steps away from my old graduate school apartment –

By Mary Anna Violi |@Mary Anna Violi

Next month heralds once more my return to my alma mater, Indiana University Bloomington, for an event that merits pride and happiness:  My daughter’s graduation. She  will be awarded her B.A. degrees in Journalism and Classical Studies, and her minor in Art History.  She will walk Commencement that morning, as will my darling nephew Daniel that afternoon on the same campus.  Our family joins them for receptions for at their respective schools the night before. The next day they will don their cap and gown, crimson stole, and fasten the tassels of their schools to their mortar boards.

No doubt I shall shed tears of joy at their academic achievements.

When I graduated in 1976 from the aforementioned university, I didn’t walk Commencement.  Having officially graduated in August, I would have had to wait until either December or the following May for Commencement.  The wait, coupled with  graduating with 4,0000 other soon-to-be-former students, held little charm for me.  My parents were not college graduates, yet three of my mother’s brothers obtained their M.D. degrees from the IU School of Medicine, another brother had a degree in Business from IU, and still another was a Purdue Engineering graduate.  It wasn’t that Mama refused to go to college; it was simply that her family with nine children was cash poor.

In short, my parents didn’t push me to attend my Commencement.  My brother, however, had other ideas.  Five years younger than I, when the time came for his IU graduation, we witnessed his Commencement and celebrated with him.  In those years, it was I who colored outside the lines, and my brother who very much colored within those lines.  I was the risk-taker; he followed a more conservative path.  Perhaps it reflected my writing, literary, and musical pursuits that contrasted with his economics and business ones.  Whatever it was in the ‘70’s, the fact remains that I elected not to walk Commencement, he did.

Having grown up in the 1960’s and having come of age in the 1970’s, our culture was different:  The racial riots burned metropolises nationwide, urban terrorism terrorized city-dwellers, the women’s movement left gender roles confused, the Sexual Revolution condoned random sex, and the Vietnam War broke everyone’s heart.  My daughter has come of age in a 21st century cultural landscape of economic chaos, crippling college debt, a declining job market for college graduates, and gratuitous violence.  She stands as my hope for a better future.  You bet I will be there to cheer her on as she graduates in May.  I applaud her pending law school endeavors, passion, fervor, intellect, and compassion.  Not only is she is the light of my life, her luminous vision wants to make this a better world.  I remember the feel of that inner fire, that smoldering passion of those undergraduate and graduate years at my alma mater.  I know that my daughter will shine her light too, with her IU degrees in hand.

Ciao for now.

My Alma Mater



The Old Well House, IU Bloomington -

The Old Well House, IU Bloomington –









By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

This weekend I’m back at my old stomping ground, IU Bloomington, where I spent my undergrad and grad school years.  This is Mom’s Weekend at my daughter’s sorority house.  Blowing in to town around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, I met my daughter at her house, handed her the cooler filled with Italian Easter bread, Italian lamb cake, Belgian bunny cookies, and homemade tortellini.  After checking into our hotel, we sped off for a late dinner at The Uptown Cafe.

This particular Mom’s Weekend is a milestone of sorts:  After her May graduation,  no more Mom’s Weekends, no more Little 500 weekends.  Nostalgia washes over me.  While she’s working at the School of Journalism, I’m imbibing a Venti Zen tea at  Starbucks in the IU Memorial Union, a sprawling Indiana limestone structure with gothic windows reminiscent of medieval England.   The cacophony of students and faculty seated at the morass of tables in this large Starbucks is upbeat.  It’s Friday; today’s sunshine promises a sun-drenched weekend.  Classes end later this month, so soon, so sadly, but not for the students, I’m certain.  The rapid passage of these four years takes my breath away.

She chose IU Bloomington over Loyola-Chicago.  Not that I don IU spirit wear on game weekends, although Hoosier Fever was endemic during the legendary Bobby Knight years.  With Bobby at the epicenter of IU basketball, we students circled in his orb.  We spilled out on to Kirkwood Avenue, celebrating wildly after the NCAA Championship wins.  Good times.  Anjelica has had classes in Ballantine, where I savored almost every English class during my undergrad years.  She has walked much the same routes that I did on her daily campus treks.  She is fortunate that the School of Journalism stands on the original, the prettiest part of the campus.  IU is a limestone wonder, but the older buildings remind one of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts.  During her first two years, Anjelica was ensconced in Collins Living and Learning Center, located a block from the “J-School”.  Collins played up its kinship to the Harry Potter books and movies.  After she pledged the sorority, she initially missed Collins’ Disco Calzone Nights.

I remember the raging intellectual curiosity of the 1970’s on the campus:  The anti-Vietnam War protests; the combative Feminist Movement; civil disobedience; the fall-out from 1964’s Civil Rights Act; and Watergate.  While protests still occur on the campus, they lack the mammoth national proportions of protests of yore.  Yet as I gaze around me, a surge of hope washes over me.  This generation may lack the passion we had of the ‘70’s, but students are poised to explore the depths of commitments, no less intellectually challenged in this 21st century. I remain hopeful for the future through the leadership of students like my daughter.

My alma mater, flawed though she may be, nonetheless stands tall.  Big Red Rules!

Ciao for now.

Dreaming of Dayton, Part One

A beautiful femme fatale -

A beautiful femme fatale –

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

This past weekend we traveled to Dayton, Ohio.  My daughter was participating in a law school safari for admitted students.  This tour de force at the law school was enhanced by the fact that we would be staying with a beloved aunt.

We set out on a sunny Friday mid-morning to journey to the Land of the Buckeyes.  This was the last weekend of Spring Break, which meant we needed to drop off my daughter’s roadster and Harvey the Fish with my brother and sister-in-law en route to Dayton.  After a quick-lunch of zuppa di minestrone, Italian bread, and a chocolate-covered shortbread cookie with an IU seal on it, we headed east.  The trip clocked in around five hours total from our domicile in northern Indiana.  Our conversation was filled with the pros and cons of the other two law schools we had visited over the past several weeks, college graduation in less than two months, and my niece’s pending June wedding.  Before one could say “graduate school”, we were pulling into Zia Agnesi’s driveway [Zia means “aunt” in Italian], in front of her well-appointed house.

Zia has always been mad about Persian cats, and she certainly has had show-stopping ones over the years.  Her two current Persians, DeLora and Molly proved no exception.   DeLora is a stunning Smokey Tortoise Persian; Molly is a blue-eyed Himalayan Persian.  I remember years ago when Zia had two blue-eyed white Angora Persians named Mitzi and Muffin.  After interacting with DeLora and Molly, I thought our own Fellini and Coco Chanel seemed to possess more pointed, fox-like noses compared with the pushed in noses of their high-falutin’ Persian cousins.

An evening full of conversation, a delicious dinner of tuna fish and noodles and mushroom casserole, and Waldorf salad washed down with vino bianco, we retired late night.  Tomorrow at the law school promised to be a busy day.

Ciao for now.

A Farewell to Arms, Apparently Not

 By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

Searching for Balance -

Searching for Balance –

In the past years we have witnessed, experienced, or read about senseless deaths due to gun violence.  As the litany of Columbine; Paducah; Virginia Tech; Aurora; Tucson; Newtown; and a host of other deaths lesser in numbers, like Tinley Park, but by no means of lesser importance.  As a nation, we wring our hands in disbelief; we clamor for tighter gun control laws; we pray there will be no more shootings.

And yet a powerful lobby pulls out all its stops with the idea that classroom teachers should be armed, as should the administrators.  As if that were not ludicrous enough a notion, the Governor of South Dakota signed such a law into being this past week. What happens if an administrator or teacher or counselor goes off the deep end and starts firing at living targets within and without the school?  How do we know whether of not there is a stable mind inside the school personnel stroking the trigger?  The sorry truth is that we do not know, until a rampage is unleashed upon innocent victims.  The only rational voice heard is the one crying out for improved mental health evaluation, treatment, and oversight.

The U. S. is no longer the wild, wild, west.  We are not battling the Revolutionary War, or the Civil War.  If a person wishes to dine upon venison, then the individual may purchase the deer meat, like one does the beef.  Anytime I hear someone babbling about our Second Amendment “right to bear arms”, I blanche.  I expect to choke quite a bit this year as the Senate and House attempt to shape different sorts of arms policies.  We have amended our Constitution since its inception, yet we are paralyzed when it comes to amending the “right to bear arms”.  Some perceive hunting as a “sport”.  Even the British have curtailed their “riding the hounds” for the blood sport of killing a fox or hare.  It seems silly to hunt animals.  What sort of achievement is that?  Hemingway and his promoting “going on safari” in Africa looked ridiculous gunning down lions.  The gruesome bullfights of Spain provoke more sympathy for the bulls than for the toreadors.  Where is the art in torturing and then killing a corralled beast?

A far better question is, Where is the humanity?

Perhaps we would do well to ponder why any civilian needs guns at all.  For what purpose does one possess a gun, except to kill life?  All humans of every color, shape, and culture, all creatures great and small deserve better than we have offered through our twisted view of the nature of the “right to bear arms”.  A better phrase would be, “all deserve the right to live”.

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.

Friend Lost, and Friend Found

Circo dinnerware, Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas -

Circo Ristorante dinnerware, Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas –














A fringe benefit of the power of social media is how it permeates the fabric of our world.  Ever since I began this blog in June 2012, I have had a relative in Italy whom I had not seen in years contact me; a former French graduate school colleague who lives in France asked if I were this person [she introduced me to Gitanes, upon which I nearly choked to death], and several other with whom I had lost touch.

However, last weekend, a reader left me a comment inquiring if I was indeed her former undergraduate college roommate, the one who was a bridesmaid in her wedding.  Those who know me well know that I am rarely speechless, but when Jackie contacted me, I was at a loss for words.  Fast and furiously we sent messages back and forth.  We had over 30 years of our lives to share with each other.  We agreed to talk via phone on Thursday evening at a well-appointed hour.

Three-and-a-half hours later that night, we still had not caught up completely.  Next week we will converse again.  We have plans to meet face to face after we scrutinize our work and family schedules.  For the past days, I have been euphoric about our social media and phone reunion, for we had great times together in college.   Although she pursued health sciences, and I English and later music, our personalities and sense of humor meshed.  As the years rolled by, I wondered off and on about Jackie.  I thought of her living in Lexington, Kentucky, in the fabled Blue Grass state.  She now is back home again in Indiana.  Searches for me were in vain.  For years I had carried a 15-letter married surname; I legally reclaimed my name several years ago.  And so it went as we canvassed the landscapes of our lives since the late 1970’s.  Jackie would not have known that about me.

Once we commenced talking, the years melted away.  She was Jackie:  Spirited, funny, compassionate, and brilliant.  Her overriding question was, “How did we ever lose touch with one another?”  I think I have the answer:  Our lives at some point did not diverge; rather they digressed.  She had married and started a family.  I returned to the university to pursue a music degree, travel back and forth to Europe, earn a graduate degree, and relocate for years to Houston.

In retrospect, I was careless about our friendship what with my hop, skip, and jump lifestyle.  I thought about other friendships that have fallen by the wayside over the years.  Some friendships simply ran their course; others were consumed by complicated lives.   However, I have been given a tremendous gift through this blog:  The gift of renewing a cherished friendship with Jackie.

I have learned to mend my errant friendship ways.

Ciao for now.

The Wedding Anniversary

The wedding cake with white roses -

The wedding cake with white roses –

Today, February 9, 2013 would have been my parents’ 74th wedding anniversary.  At least we got to celebrate their 63rd.  My parents were married over a decade before they had children, and they were not practicing birth control.

February 9th capped the triad of milestones for Mama and Daddy.  Mama’s birthday was on February 7th, Daddy became a U. S. citizen on February 8th, and they were married on February 9th.  When I inquired why these events occurred in the Heartland’s snowy month of February, they would smile and gaze into one another’s eyes.  After all, Daddy was an Italian immigrant and Mama was a second-generation Italian; in the end, they were romantics at heart.  They simply wanted to be married, frigid winter weather be damned.

Married they were in St. Monica Catholic Church in Mama’s hometown and Daddy’s adopted one.  Nimble seamstress Great-Aunt Agnes fashioned the bridal gown and those of Mama’s two attendants, her sister Adelaide and her cousin Mary.  The bride’s dress was made of candlelight slipper satin with rows of small satin-covered buttons down the back and at the wrist.  The flirty front slit beguiled the groom, who was dressed in a navy blue suit, crisp white shirt, and navy and white striped tie.  A boutonnière of white roses adorned the suit’s lapel. One bridesmaid wore pale blue; the other attired in soft pink slipper satin.  Mama’s bouquet, called a shower bouquet, held a bounty of white roses and delicate greenery.  Satin ribbons with petite white roses fastened to the ribbons with small greenery cascaded from the bouquet. A wide lace- trimmed veil trailed after Mama, as did the train of the gown.

After the Mass, all celebrated with a wedding banquet at the bride’s family home.  Mama related how they dined on chicken, pasta, asparagus [from the freezer], and salad.  Another relative made the tiered white wedding cake.  Amid good wishes and adieux, my parents left for their Niagara Falls honeymoon.  They drove in the snow and ice of February for an even colder climate to begin their married life.  They had their Italian love to sustain them, as it did throughout their 63 years of married life.

Ciao for now.

By Mary Anna Violi | @Mary Anna Violi

For the Birds

In mid-December we visited out-of-town relatives.  Uncle Jim and Aunt Jane have a spectacular view off their deck of the wooded area surrounding their house.  Uncle Jim delighted in pointing out the various species of birds that flocked to his deluxe bird feeder.  With the aid of a colorful bird guidebook, he pointed out an exotic looking woodpecker dining on the deck.   On the drive back home that evening, we talked about the feasibility of installing a bird feeder.

Cardinal - Full Size

Cardinal – Full Size (Photo credit: Orbital Joe)

Later in December we were enchanted with my sister-in-law’s new bird feeder.  Mornings we imbibed tea while we observed cardinals gathered around the large square feeder.  One male cardinal in particular appeared to rule the feeder roost.  Like a sultan overseeing his harem, “Big Red” deemed which females were bird feeder-worthy.  Only a squirrel hopping on board could oust “Big Red” from his feeder throne.

Blue Jay in Snow

Blue Jay in Snow (Photo credit: JacquiTnature)

We decided to purchase a two-tiered bird feeder and large bag of bird food that purported to attract a host of feathered friends.  We hung the green and clear feeder on a sturdy branch of an ornamental tree outside our breakfast nook and waited for the birds to dine at their new chez.  Within hours, cardinals began to flock.  We deduced the Twilight Chirp had spread the news about our bird bistro.  The Twilight Chirp alerted birds that the only cats in sight were secured behind a breakfast window. The two felines could do no more than meow, swish their tails, and gaze at the birds.  The bird feeder population thrived as more feathered diners appeared.

squirrel eating from bird feeder

squirrel eating from bird feeder (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One afternoon I glanced out the window only and saw a portly creature clinging to the lower tier of the feeder.  Rocket J. Squirrel had hoisted himself up so that his derriere faced north whilst he frantically plucked food south.  I slammed the back door.  The scurrilous fellow beat a hasty retreat only after he gorged had himself on the contents of the feeder.  Subsequently, it has been an ongoing battle of squirrel sneak versus human defender of the bird feeder.  Often I observe a crowd of birds on both tiers chirping and dining.  Hours later I notice with alarming frequency squirrel tracks in the snow, leaving evidence of who done our feeder wrong.  I do not begrudge the squirrel food, but our neighbor has a feeder full of dried corn cobs for squirrels.  Yet I go forth armed with more birdseed, in the hopes the oversized rodent will not shoo the cardinal band away.

Ciao for now.