Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Alberghetti and Her Spaghetti

My family is on a spaghetti kick this week. Some of us are loving it with garlic butter and cheese and others of us are totally into spaghetti with meat sauce. None of these dishes are especially gourmet. They are more what Alice B. Toklas termed, "nursery food," than epicurean delights.

There I was at my stove, browning meat for sauce yet again, when I thought of a television commercial from back in the 1970's, when I was a teen. This woman appears on the screen, someone I've never seen before, and she's wearing an apron. The frame shows her standing there in the kitchen, apparently getting ready to cook her brains out. She announces herself with some alliteration: "Hello, I'm Anna Maria Alberghetti and I'm here to talk to you about spaghetti sauce."

Every single time this commercial came before my television-saturated baby-boomer eyes, I was puzzled, but not too puzzled, ready to accept anything the family television wished to air on my behalf. I registered this unknown face and thought, "Who the Hell is Anna Maria Alberghetti and what do I care about her spaghetti?"

It never occurred to me to ask my mother, who would have known. But like I said, I didn't much care. Today though, when I remembered Ms. Alberghetti, I remembered the truism that GIYF (Google is your friend) and hastened to my PC to see what I could dig up. It seemed like a fun thing to do.

I was surprised that youtube doesn't carry a clip of that particular commercial, though I did find this one that shows Ms. Alberghetti advertising a different product, right at the end of this collection of dated, nostalgia-engendering commercials. So, I bombed out trying to find that particular spot that jogged my memory in the first place, but I did find lots of other material about the singer/actress.

Anna Maria Alberghetti (b. 1936) was a child prodigy born in Italy. Her father was an opera singer and concert master and her mother was a concert pianist. Anna Maria , according to Wikipedia, sang onstage in Rhodes with a 100 piece orchestra when she was six and had a debut at Carnegie Hall when she was 13. She won a Tony Award for Best Actress in Carnival in 1962. She appeared on Ed Sullivan more than 50 times. She married Claudio Guzman, a television producer and director, had a couple of daughters, and divorced.

Then she kind of faded away until she reappeared in those Good Seasons Salad Dressing commercials in the 1970's. I had remembered that the commercial was about spaghetti, but it must have been about the accompanying salad's dressing of choice. It seems this advertising campaign was geared to housewives who would have remembered Anna Maria from her glory days, because she'd all but faded from the consciousness of anyone else by the time those commercials were aired.

I still think this ad campaign was a bit misguided. It's one thing to have Joe Namath advertise pantyhose . Everyone knows Joe Namath, right??

Come to think of it, my kids have never heard of him. Hmmmm. But he was in the public conscious at the time he made that commercial, and Anna Maria had well nigh fallen off the radar by the time of that late lamented (okay, so not so lamented) Good Seasons promotion.

It's kind of hard for me to grok why they chose her, other than the obvious associations: Italian name, looks, and home-cooked Italian food. I didn't know her from Adam. I kept thinking: Saturday Night Light should spoof this.

I did find one more piece of information that kind of tickled my imagination: "The tragedy of World War II forced the Alberghettis from their homeland... "

"Hey?" I wondered. "What's up with that?"

Can you feel my brain ticking, thinking: is it possible?? Was Anna Maria Jewish??

She wasn't. But in 1992, the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) co-sponsored a two-day conference with NIAF (National Italian American Foundation) entitled, "Italians and Jews: Rescue and Aid during the Holocaust." The event was held at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, Beverly Hills. Anna Maria was honored with an award and spoke of her memories from her childhood in Italy during the war.

She told the crowd that her aunt was shot by the SS and her father, who had trained many Jewish cantors, was arrested by Il Duce's Fascists. After her speech, she accepted a silver coin that commemorated the 500th anniversary of Columbus' famed voyage of 1492. According to the account I read of this event, this was the only time anyone from either the NIAF side or the ADL side made mention of this obvious connection between the two groups.

Maybe I couldn't connect Anna Maria with that spaghetti, but as it turns out, Anna Maria had no problem making the connection to me and my people. I salute you, Anna Maria Alberghetti AND your spaghetti.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Plural Thinking

In the era of love and peace, A/K/A, the sixties, everyone talked astrology. It was big.

Astrology made its way into pop culture via the musical Hair (Age of Aquarius), people nixed lovers based on astral predictions of incompatibility, and folks slurped up their daily newspaper horoscopes for a hefty dose of narcissism.

Some of us said, "We know it's not real, but it's fun," while others paid close attention and planned their calendars and love lives in accordance with the printed word.

But the appeal of astrology and horoscopes have faded quite a bit and don't figure quite so large in our everyday lives. Of course, like every other truth, this is more or less true, depending on individuals, with some people still enthralled with the idea that the stars have the power to invest their lives with meaning. I'm not one of them.

I am, however, very involved with the idea that my sign, Gemini, is a true reflection of my personality. I've noticed that my Gemini friends tend to feel the same way: that there is something about this astrological sign that makes Geminis proud to own up as members of the tribe. We feel special. Anointed, even.

I don't want to delve into the roots of astrology, but would like to give an overview of my personal beliefs on the topic. Astrology has Jewish lineage, since its roots are in the Jewish Sefer Yetzira (Book of Creation). But observant Jews are wary of astrology as a guiding force because of the biblical precedent: "Do not act on the basis of auspicious times" (Leviticus 19:26).

It's like this: God could, in theory, paint a picture in the stars of future events, but depending on any one particular picture would be foolish, since God could change the sky at any moment and even from minute to minute. God could make the stars look one way, but make things play out in an altogether different manner. Sky-pictures can be tests of faith.

The test: Do we base our actions according to a chimera in the sky, or do we do we examine each moment and act according to what is right or wrong at a given moment according to our code of ethics?

On the other hand, we can use the idea of the astrological signs for personal insight and for the purpose of perfecting ourselves. For instance, Scorpio is consumed with the idea of sex and death. Scorpios have the nature of murderers, but, on channeling their instincts, might become butchers or surgeons. I feel very comfortable with the idea that my sign says reams about me and that this knowledge can help me become a better person.

About ten years ago, some women I knew took a course on astrology from a Jewish perspective. The teacher was a French woman, the daughter of a rabbi who had achieved some renown in this field of study. The all-women students were taught how to make astrological charts and give readings. My friends were eager to practice their skills and asked me and my husband if they could be allowed to do our charts.

When I was shown my chart, I was told that it was very rare in that it depicted a perfect Magen David, the Star of David. Wow. I looked at my chart, and sure enough, there was a perfect Jewish star holding pride of place. The women consulted their teacher who said that this was a rare occurrence and signified that I was a special person. Who wouldn't love hearing that stuff? I just ate it up.

But things got even more interesting when my husband's chart came out a perfect triangle. I watched the women pointing to the three points of the triangle as they mumbled and nodded. One of them explained, "Your husband is inflexible. He goes from point A, to point B, to point C with no digression. EVER!" The woman used her finger to punctuate each fixed point.

Furthermore, other women jumped in to explain, his bullish ways were bound to butt into my fuller, more rounded character on a continual basis ensuring regular collisions in the form of marital spats. Five faces turned to me in curiosity, yearning (drooling) for confirmation. I kept a poker face. "Interesting," I said.

I know, I know: I shouldn't disappoint people like that. But it's a Gemini urge to always dissemble. And above all, I am a died-in-the-wool Gemini. Nyuk.

In actual fact, those women weren't really surprising me much. When Dov and I were dating, and I discovered he was a Virgo, a part of me thought, "Yikes. Virgos and Geminis are incompatible," but I dismissed the idea as retro, 60's thinking. I registered but didn't place too much stock in the idea.

I don't plan for this to be a reveal-all blog entry, but suffice it to say that while Dov and I could never stand in for Ward and June Cleaver, our 30th anniversary is only two months away. If I had counted on astral predictions, I never would have married the guy, but somehow, we're making it work.

A friend once shared with me something she read in a Jewish book on astrology. The book was in French (are you seeing a pattern yet?), so she translated for my sake. This tome commented on the fact that out of all the astrological signs, only Virgo and Gemini are represented by human figures, whereas the others are animals, elements, or objects.

The idea that Virgo and Gemini are the only signs represented by people has a Jewish significance. Virgo is associated with the Hebrew month of Elul, in which the High Holidays begin, a traditional time of repentance. Only people have the ability to repent.

Gemini is associated with the Hebrew month of Sivan, in which the Torah was given to the Jewish people, as commemorated by Shavuos (Shavuot), the Festival of Weeks, which occurs in Sivan. One of the reasons that Gemini is represented by twins is because this is the time that the twin tablets of the Ten Commandments were given to the Jewish people and God became tied to His Chosen. Only people can observe the commandments.

So, there you have it: Sivan and Elul are of special importance to people. But why, then, should their associated signs be incompatible? I would be interested to hear from my readers any ideas they might have on the subject. Maybe my Jewish star as it appears on my chart is a kind of hint? My Virgo husband goes in one unerring direction, while I have two triangles in two opposite directions?

Another friend (not French this time, but maybe in training?), showed me that she had a book, not a Jewish book, that spoke about the negative aspects of the astrological signs. A Gemini herself, she told me that Geminis were the sign most likely to end up behind bars. She showed me the cover of the book, which was decorated with the astrological signs depicted according to their worst characteristics. The Twins were shown in jail-stripes.

I didn't read the book, but I'm guessing this has to do with the fact that Geminis are impulsive and mercurial (a good word to describe a sign that is associated with the planet Mercury). I could have said, "Geminis are 'supposed to be' impulsive and mercurial," but I totally buy into the idea that these personality traits are real. I see them in every Gemini I know. I don't see these traits in other people.

Geminis tend to attract other Geminis for friends, though relationships aren't calm and smooth. Geminis are creative, they write, they're musicians--they love to perform. But to me, the main thing about Geminis is that they are changeable. They are like two people rolled into one and you never know which one you're gonna get. Geminis are honest, but color the truth to make it more palatable or to get what they want. Geminis HATE boredom and are always flitting from thing to thing in an effort to stay engaged, but all too often find themselves in hyper-focus over the inconsequential. Geminis talk too much and then find they are hurt too easily. We are immature and volatile. We lack discretion and prudence. But we're witty, fun, and humorous.

Are Geminis double your pleasure, double the fun? Or are we double-trouble? Leave a comment below. Both of me are waiting to hear from you ;-)

Bled Dry

Has anyone noticed my long absence from this blog? I sincerely hope so. It would be nice to know I've got people waiting--nay hanging--on my every word. Ha!

This month has been a killer. Though my company agreed to the bid I submitted as a lowered compromise fee per article, I discovered that I still wouldn't receive enough articles at this price to make this month's rent. And so, I lowered my sights and agreed to take half of my former fee for a guaranteed 100 assignments; the exact number of articles that would cover a month's rent at that rate.

This meant that whereas I used to write a maximum of 75 articles a month and had enough to cover rent plus two utilities, I scrambled to push out more content than ever before and only just covered rent. Well, I'm glad to have a job, and I did manage to get my articles in 10 days early, a kind of miracle, but I am thoroughly burned out.

Yesterday, I found myself in a stupor of sorts. I felt pressure to produce something, ANYTHING, now that my assignments were handed in and I could write about whatever I liked to my heart's content. I could use this time to write something for the freelance market, work on one of my books in progress, write something for a contest, or just blab on my blog. But nothing came to me. I felt bled dry.

It felt like the fibro-fog I'm always writing about for my job. I tried and failed to get my mind moving. I reviewed ideas and rejected them, one after the other, and finally gave in to the fog completely.

I got a great deal of housework done and decided I deserved some mindless fun on Facebook playing Pathwords and Bejeweled Blitz. I made two friends and lost another. Isn't it interesting how fast that works on Facebook?? I wound up the evening by watching Al Pacino in Scarface, hoping to generate some passionate emotion that would end up here, having taken form and achieved new heights of linguistic prowess, a kind of word apotheosis. But no. Nothing came to me. A big zilch.

However, today is another day and ideas are beginning to peep: "Write about me! No, write about ME!" like so many broken twigs trying to rearrange themselves back into a semblance of hope holding potential for productivity.

I am now trying to sift through the possibilities and settle on something. This entry is really about nothing at all except the process. Housework is easy: you see the task in front of you and so you set about completing your work with as much industry as you can muster. But writing? Ah. There's the rub. It just doesn't work that way with writing. Writing comes from within.

I will adjust to this new schedule, I feel certain. Maybe I will have to have a burnout day every month on completion of my assignments? It could very well be that yesterday was not a wasted day--that the brain-fog I experienced is also a part of the process. Or, maybe I just need a period of adjustment to my new job situation. I will try to be patient and wait for clarity.