Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Robert St. John: Home is Where the Realized Nouns Are

L. Frank Baum nailed it when he penned the line, “There’s no place like home,” in his novel about the man behind the green curtain in land of Oz. Five truer words may never have been spoken. Home is where our lives grow fuller and richer. It’s one of the main sources of joy for me.

And It’s not just a physical building on a street, down the block from other houses in one— of several— neighborhoods that make up a town or city. No. Home is a concept as much as it is a place. 

Home is a fully realized noun. Home is people, whether they be friends, family, co-workers, random acquaintances, or other individuals who have chosen to live in a specific locale and impact our lives in certain ways. I believe home can be multiple places at once. Home can also refer to such things as pets and general material things.

With that established, I am so glad to be home.

I have spent the past six weeks working in Italy. When I speak to people about what I do in various European countries for three months out of the year, I make sure to use the term, “work.” Because it most certainly is. Whereas it would be very nice to vacation in assorted European locales for weeks at a time in the spring and fall, that’s not in the cards for me.

It is definitely work. Seven days a week with a half day off in the middle to the tune of 80 hours a week. Usually there is an off day in between groups when we restock the villas and organize things to get ready for the next group, but not always.

I have spent the past six years hosting Americans from all over the country through Italy and Spain. In all I have hosted just over 600 people, mostly from the south, in groups of 25 each turning them on to the people, places, and things— other people’s realized nouns— I have discovered through the years. Though two of those years I spent shuffling people over again and over again during Covid. So, it’s actually 600 people in four years.

Technically, all haven’t been in Europe. I hosted two comprehensive tours in Mississippi. Those were a blast, and recently I have been fielding a lot of requests to host another Mississippi tour or two. As soon as I can find a spare week, we’ll announce.

I’m also scheduled to host a group in Holland and Belgium on the first of May. I am excited about that upcoming 10-day jaunt. Everyone I have ever met from those two countries are some of the most wonderful people I have met in Europe, or anywhere for that matter.

I am not a group travel person. Never have been, never will be. But there is something about the way these tours transpire that make them feel like nothing more than a bunch of friends on the road together, discovering new and wonderful local food, art, and culture. Several of my guests over these past six weeks came up to me and said, “When you said, ‘this is not like group travel,’ I was skeptical. But it really isn’t.” Though no one can ever put a finger on why. It just isn’t. 

Unlike in “The Wizard of Oz,” there’s not one man behind the curtain, there are dozens of people who make the RSJ Travel division of Different Drummer Inc, work. Simeon Williford has the title of “Executive Assistant” to me. But she does so much more than that. A large part of her workday is spent promoting, booking, scheduling, and organizing tour groups. It’s a lot of work, and she does a great job. When new tour dates are announced, the following hours are hectic as there are only 25 spots to fill with dozens— sometimes hundreds— of interested travelers. A few months ago, we released the new Spain 2023 dates and the tour sold out in 90 minutes. When we announced the Holland-Belgium dates, the spots were filled in an afternoon. The three spring 2023 trips filled in a day. Williford manages all of that, expertly while handling my schedule and the publishing business.

Maria Keyes is my longtime CFO. We’ve worked together for over a quarter of a century. The financial end of the trips is handled by her, while she’s also juggling all our restaurant’s accounting, and my personal financial matters. She is good is what she does and hits the ground running every weekday, and often in her off hours on weekends.

My longtime Italian friend, Annagloria— who also owns the villas we rent— handles most of the bookings and reservations for Tuscany groups. Her daughter Gemma helps with those duties and her other daughter Bianca works in various capacities during the week. Enzo, Annagloria’s husband helps with random things, from running to the airport to pick up late-arriving guests, to coming out to the villa (which is in a very remote spot) to help get the electricity back on after a lightning storm at five in the morning (if that sounds specific, it’s because it just happened a week ago).

Marina Mengelberg started as a tour guide, and still performs those duties expertly. But she also has joined me as a co-host on some tours and stays with guests in the second villa. Everyone loves Marina, and they all leave happier after spending a week with her.

Jesse Marinus is a travel professional and helps me book trips I do outside of Tuscany. He also travels with our group when we are in Rome, Naples, and all of Spain. He and Mengelberg are both Dutch and will be joining me through the entire jaunt through Holland and Belgium.

One of the key components of these tours is transportation. We crisscross Tuscany in Mercedes vans. I call Fabio Bellino, “The minister of transportation,” and he is. Transportation on any excursion such as this is vital to the success of a trip. 

The people on the ground in the U.S. work to make it easy for guests to leave their home to spend a week with us. The people overseas welcome us into their “home” so we can appreciate all it has to offer before heading back to our own. And the 400 team members in our restaurant hold down the fort. I love Hattiesburg and I love Mississippi, it’s not like I ever need to go away to appreciate it, but every time I come home, I am so glad to be from here and to live and work here. 

Coming home after each excursion gives me a new appreciation of home and the people who I am surrounded by in my daily life. I flew in at midnight and was up at 4:30 a.m. the next morning on my way to Jackson to get to work at the new Italian restaurant. The timing there has been unfortunate. I like to spend the first three months at a new concept helping get its feet off the ground. The hard scheduling forced me overseas after the second week. I have been itching to get back. The to-do list is long. First items on the agenda are tweaking the menu, taking off a few of the items that aren’t selling and adding several authentic Italian items I learned through research and development during my six-week stint in Italy.

It's good to be home to my people, places, and things. The work continues.


Pasta Carbonara

No peas, no cream. That’s real Pasta Carbonara.

1 lb.                 Dry spaghetti pasta
1 gallon           Water
¼ cup + ½ tsp Kosher salt
3 TB                Extra virgin olive oil
½ lb.                Guanciale or Pancetta, medium diced
2 cups              Parmigianino Reggiano, shredded
1 tsp                Fresh ground black pepper
4 each              Whole large eggs, beaten slightly, at room temperature
½ cup              Warm pasta water

Cook the spaghetti using the intructions on the package.

Heat the oil in a small skillet on medium heat. Add pancetta and stir frequently until cooked, about 6-8 minutes. Allow to cool slightly.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, grated cheese, remaining ½ tsp salt, black pepper, and pasta water (if the water is too hot you might want to add it in small amounts so the eggs won’t scramble). Mix well. Add hot spaghetti. Add the cooked pancetta and its oil over the pasta and combine thoroughly.

Divide among 6-8 serving bowls. 


Anonymous said...

What a waste of electrons.

Anonymous said...

RSJ obviously read/heard of the problems at at his Renaissance location. Good luck to him turning around a bunch of first impressions.

Anonymous said...

Yep, he needs to be at Enzo's fixing it and getting rid of dead weight who do not wish to deliver quality to his customers. The pappardelle pasta was gross; bolognese sauce with it was great but the staff doesn't know how to properly cook homemade pasta.

Stuff About ZeroBear PolyBear said...

There's no place like home (Click, click, click)!

My short story follows:

I can't think about college days without eventual memories of "Green Fluffy Stuff" from the MSU Student Union Grill (Before they farmed out the space to turn the Grill into a food court). I must have asked the nice ladies working the line in the grill for a serving of fluffy stuff two hundred times in the seven years I was at state. I guess it was my go-to dessert, although I also seem to recall a killer cherry pie they served.

Note: I understand, As a guy with a master's degree in science I should be able to spell, so I promise to sort'a proof read this before posting it.

Green Fluffy Stuff


2 - large packages Green Lime Jello (should make 8 cups of jello)
1 - can crushed pineapple
1 - 16 ounce tub of small curd cottage cheese
1 - Tub Cool Whip


In a corning ware or pyrex bowl, mix lime jello powder with 1/2 cup less boiling water than package directions call for.

Dilute with 1/2 cup less cold water than the package calls for.

Chill in refrigeratorr until the jello begins to thicken, then add pineapple.

Allow to chill a while longer before stirring in the cottage cheese.

When the mixture is almost set, add the Cool Whip and stir to disperse.

Continue chilling in the fridge until set.

Eat a Captain Jack sized portion and daydream about eating dinner in the Union Grill, "Way back when".

Anonymous said...

Thank you polybear.

I use cream cheese instead of cottage and add a cup of chopped walnuts.

Anonymous said...

Who would take an Italian tour with a guy from Mississippi who claims to be a restaurateur who can't even run a decent "Italian-American" restaurant IN MISSISSIPPI? It's not like he's competing in NYC or Phiily, for gosh sakes.

Is "home" what say you will lose if you don't get a special "restaurant owners" handout, or is "home" what you'll actually lose if you are a worker in a restaurant and the government shuts your employer down, but hands him a full Champaign bucket full of money while it tries to figure out if you qualify for food stamps?

Those who would tour with St. John or dine in his "restaurants" deserve to. And yes, that is a complete sentence.

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

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