Talk of the Towns: 12.16.20
u. city | The Pasta House Co. has shut down its flagship location in U. City (boo!) and will soon be serving up toasted ravs, minestrone, pasta con broccoli, etc., etc.—well, providing curbside service, for the time being—at its brand-new location in Ladue (yay!). Officials say all employees at the U. City location, 20 full-time and 30 part-time, are to make the move to 8831 Ladue Road, which until November was home to Giovanni’s Kitchen. The iconic Pasta House building at Delmar and Old Bonhomme is being converted into yet another doc-in-the-box—oh, I’m sorry, a brand-new, urgent care location. Maybe some months after construction wraps up, my wife and I will be able to walk to get our COVID-19 vaccines there. Up and down a few residential hills from our condo (OK, we’ve only hoofed it once), our neighborhood Pasta House had been a favorite go-to for dining in. It’s where I passed muster with one of Cate’s best friends soon after we started dating. And it’s always been a frequent takeout destination. We’ll miss it terribly. Ladue Road, a few hundred yards off I-170, is about as far as I’ll drive for food to stay fresh-out-of-the-kitchen warm. Pasta House historians, and we’re sure there are a few, will tell you the eatery was founded in 1974 by three bona fide Italian fellas: Joe Fresta, who remains president, the late J. Kim Tucci and the late John P. Ferrara. The U. City restaurant occupied 3,000 square feet, plus a banquet room. So, is the building iconic? Maybe it looks a little bit “Tuscany.” But the parking lot looked kind of like a gerrymandered congressional district: narrow here, wider there, basically all over the place. There’ll be a couple hundred fewer square feet inside at Ladue, but a large patio, and parking will be much more straightforward in Colonial Marketplace. And you should know that Pasta House is not just your nonno’s pizzeria: The company comprises 17 restaurants in Missouri and Illinois, a satellite location at the airport and a catering division.
If three wise men and some shepherds were so intrigued by a nighttime twinkling much, much brighter than any other heavenly body besides the moon that they set out to follow it and found themselves admiring an infant in a manger 2,000-some years ago, certain astronomers might not quibble. That may have been because Jupiter and Saturn, our two largest planetary neighbors, appeared to be extremely close together: “in conjunction.” This unusual stellar phenomenon, or double planet, is coming up right before Christmas—starting on the solstice, Dec. 21, and visible for the following few evenings, overcast permitting. They’ll appear low in the western sky for about an hour after sunset. This last happened during the Middle Ages; 794 years ago, to be precise. Professional stargazers say the last Jupiter-Saturn conjunction where the two appeared to be this close happened just before dawn on March 4, 1226. Previously, about 800 years before that. Really? Really. Astronomers are scary smart. (Repeat after me: Neil deGrasse Tyson or Stephen Hawking. Those two dudes probably passed calculus. Maybe even physics, too. Good for them. I took art.) The next close encounter of this kind is set to occur March 15, 2080, and then not again until after 2400. But way back when? That immensely bright star may have been even more astonishing one magical Christmas Eve around Year Zero because of a triple conjunction. Venus—typically the second-brightest heavenly object (the moon is No. 1, remember)—could have joined the party, which means the Supreme Being may have hit an extremely rare, and very bright, cosmic triple. That was posited by none other than Johannes Kepler, a 17th-century genius during the Scientific Revolution, sort of the Hawking plus Tyson of his day, times two. (Math, see?) There’s faith, and there’s science. And they’re not necessarily incompatible. Just check out some of the things Einstein said. I’d sure like to pick his brain about this. Or Kepler’s. Might have to wait for eons, but I believe that’ll be just fine.
We have a couple of sisters. One of them is German. And she’s a city! I knew none of this. Amid the many happenings of 2020, we may have overlooked the 60th anniversary of St. Louis, Missouri, USA, and Stuttgart, Germany, being Sister Cities. And folks in both places have done handsprings to celebrate! Literally: St. Louis’ Circus Harmony and Stuttgart’s Circus Circuli partnered up to form Peace Through Pyramids and co-produced a show, Sister City Circus, which airs this weekend. Through a series of virtual meetings, classes and workshops, the two troupes created six circus acts, which they then filmed at iconic locations in their respective cities. (Citygarden is one of our locales. Apropos of the times we’ve all endured, performers in both cities were filmed wearing masks.) The show celebrating the Sister Cities premieres on Circus Harmony’s YouTube page at noon this Saturday, Dec. 19. Visit youtube.com/user/circusharmony; a 40-second teaser that’s up now is worth a look.
A spirit of volunteerism is as embedded in St. Louis as the Gateway Arch. For many St. Louisans, it’s like iron in their blood. Annie Schlafly admits to a love affair with our town—her town—since she was a little girl. And she’s driven to share it. “I come from a long line of giving back,” Schlafly says. She’s volunteered for organizations like St. Luke’s Hospital and St. Louis Public Library. In 2017, the inveterate civic booster found her true niche as a volunteer—in fact, she created it. Schlafly established the International Mentoring Program through the St. Louis Mosaic Project of the World Trade Center-St. Louis, headquartered in Clayton. “I want people to feel like part of the fabric,” she says. The mentorship program helps foreign-born professional women adjust and familiarizes them with both corporate entities and The Lou’s wonderful quirks (e.g., toasted ravioli and the requisite high school query). But first, she met Susan Gobbo, who in 2014 had co-founded a networking group for international spouses. A native of Brazil, Gobbo had worked as a physical therapist caring for cardiac and pulmonary patients in a São Paulo ICU. When her husband Mauricio’s temporary U.S. assignment became permanent, she felt unfulfilled and became depressed, as do many professionals who move with their spouse’s career. She was not just someone who needed a boost; she was eager to share her experience. Gobbo and Schlafly have been the perfect fit. “The magic of this program is the two of us together,” says Schlafly. “It’s best if we’re both at the table.” Mentors and mentees can’t help but become fully engaged. Emily Cupito moved here—tearfully—when her husband accepted a professorship at Washington University School of Medicine. “I went from feeling like no one in this city understood me to feeling I had good friends for life,” says Cupito. “My husband now talks about how I have more friends here than he does!” At present, more than a dozen groups have been started, each with five St. Louis mentors and five international women mentees. The group meets five times a year, and mentors and mentees hold five one-on-one meetings yearly. Participants learn how to guide others facing the same challenges as they did. They absorb valuable details about how to serve on the many boards around town. And they have fun! Integrating with our culture is difficult “if you’re not connecting socially and gave up everything to come here,” notes Schlafly. Depending on ever-shifting local limits on group size, there have been girls nights out, yoga sessions and visits to the Missouri Botanical Garden and Saint Louis Art Museum. They’re looking forward to the Redbirds and Blues again, plus Major League Soccer. Of course, there are lemons, but these women make lemonade. Most of their meetings, like their book club, have been on Zoom. Pandemic, schmandemic: Since March, there’ve been 65 meetings involving 780 women! Visit sites.google.com/view/stlismentor.