Ren Michael is a singer-songwriter who has traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, typically returning to Los Angeles where he plays the blues, folk music, rock n’ roll and spoken word/poetry in the clubs, pubs and cafes around town. You can hear is music on Spotify and Soundcloud.
I was thinking about the Headspace app, and how for me, it was the real introduction to mediation. It’s a great app for the beginner, and it does a wonderful job at making something long-considered esoteric more approachable and welcoming.
I started using it in early Spring 2016 and I continued meditating consistently for the next 2-3 years.
The experience taught me how to better handle my thoughts by adding some context and theory to what I probably already knew intrinsically—the simple idea that thoughts come and go and that there is no need to attach ourselves to them unless they are useful.
Simple enough, theoretically, though not necessarily easy to grasp.
The problem I ran into was that I got preoccupied with the notion of how I thought it should be. That is, how mediation should be and how I should be having started the practice.
This of course only led to more thinking, which inhibited me and had me second-guessing myself on matters I’d already more or less settled. How I approach my creativity, chief among them, but really a broad range of matters from how I relate to people to my morning routines, from how I dress and to my taste in music
Those hiccups might seem unfortunate, but maybe they were necessary in order to stand on more solid ground further on up the road.
I’m beginning to see how that sort of thing happens from time to time.
I think I’ll be living in Santa Fe soon picture me walking ‘long a New Mexico road that Pueblo adobe & streetlights of candlit brown paper bags on a winters night me and the moon and You standing before St. Francis cathedral yea I can see it I can see that being my little midnight ritual at the end of every Saturday evening
Political discourse like broken leaves
Stands in the shadows of laughing trees
The root of evil
Disguised as greed
Only as old as Adam and Eve
Cannot die but it must be beat, and
What comes to pass, what’ll come to be
Sings from deep within you and me.
Like a lion you are
A golden heart
As old as time
Though unborn, just thunder in the dark
Younger, less experienced
His untested mark
The test to wait
Through the blood
The great flood
Many years in the deepest recesses of Noah’s old ark
No angels for you, no
Just those in your soul
We’ll see what you do, unprotected
You’ll need help through the rain
Deep within the grain, your skin screams in pain
They may give you the whip, they may call you insane
And in the dark of the night, few will call you brave
Yet in the dark, like a lark
Goes right to your soul
In the quiet night, yea
In the murdering cold
A voice, quiet choice
Calls out, says you’re not alone
To love your brother, all you got is each other
It’s all you each will ever know.
Soon the voice dies
Some crucified, their eyes
Said to watch from the sky
You feel a need to keep the dream, carry on
Though you question why
Whether you do it, or not
Remains up to you
All you want’s your own life
Nice wife, and your own
bit of fruit
The choice seems clear, then
And it seems quick
Keep the people out, yea
It’s them that are sick
It’s them that rape, pillage
And crack the whip, indeed
A wise man knows when to quit
I won’t cast stones
I’ll just build me a wall
Better to be dressed to kill
Than prone to crawl
And yet every time night falls
Through your window view
You won’t play the fool
You want what’s owed to you
You know you’ll have it all, if you just forget
The voice in the night every time the sun sets
But rich or poor
Still you feel unborn
You got love
But who’s it for?
When you realize a sobering truth
That love itself is no great virtue
To the courage that came first
Living in a dream, still deep inside of you
You wake in a cold sweat, it’s hard to forget
All the gold you own, and the possessions you’ve kept
But you leave it all behind and step out in the night
Soon the sun’ll come a-rising and you’ll enter the fight
And each and everyone will ask you “Whose side are you on?!”
They’ll worship and abuse you, and still you’ll carry on
Through the rain, there’s a thunder
And that rain’ll come hard
Yet still, you’ll stand together
With your brothers in arms.
A few years back when I was still in Europe, people were persuading me not to go to Budapest since we’d heard news that the city was flooded with refugees seeking asylum from war-torn Syria. But I had roots there and I’d never been as to close to it as I was then. It was only a 7-hour train ride from Prague, so I decided to go.
The roots I’m talking about are through my grandfather on my mother’s side. Though I never met him, I feel like I’ve known him all my life through the stories I’ve heard and through the music–the Hungarian violin and the old gypsy csárdás, which are a type of folk dance native to Hungary made popular long ago by the Romani gypsies.
Whether it takes me to Castilla or Budapest, it seems I’m guided by that music and the unrelenting thirst for movement and experience it seems to inspire. Here I was now, years later, paying homage to my own gypsy blood, riding a train and vagabonding through Europe for close to a month already, finally making my way to a place–much like Castilla–that felt like my homeland in more ways than one.
When the train pulled in to the station I looked out the window and caught my first sights of the city. I’ll admit, I half-expected to see angry mobs raising all sorts of hell like it was the Bastille at the start of the Revolution.
Yet as I looked out, I saw nothing particularly remarkable. The station was quiet. Nearly empty. I stepped outside and saw fellow passengers leaving the train, some being greeted by friends and loved ones. I saw a few kids hanging out by the cafe and a few more outside, skateboarding around the courtyard. Whatever chaos had been unfolding in the preceding days and weeks had gone now.
I thought for a moment about the media and it’s tendency toward sensationalism, as it sometimes ignores other news for the sake of news that will keep us interested or drive up their ratings. I do worry whether it might become the boy who cried wolf, if it hasn’t already; as today I consider those who still have trouble grasping the urgency of climate change, or COVID-19 for that matter.
In any case, however things went down here, it appeared the refugees had either moved on or disappeared into the city blending in with everyone else. They were only people with the same essential needs and aspirations as the rest of us. And the more I recognized that, the more I thought about those qualities that truly defined a country.
Was it borders, or something less tangible? Maybe something not quite set in stone but in constant motion, rooted in history but still vulnerable to change by the passage of time, or by the influence of an outside world–one that can never be kept outside for too long.
If the latter was true, then I figured countries were a macrocosm of the individual human experience, which would ultimately make borders something of an illusion.
I hoisted my bag over my shoulder and stepped out onto the streets, the sky turning a bright pink as the sun set behind the hills and day faded into evening. The air had grown cool. I could hear a violin somewhere not too far away.
I stopped in one of the last towns to fill up on gas and get supplies–which consisted mainly of sandwich bread, two cans of tuna, some fruit and peanut butter–before starting into the mountains, into Sequoia National Park, where I’d sleep for two nights.
After getting to my campground and setting up my tent, I set out to see General Sherman, the largest tree in the world. I reached the trailhead and made my way into the grove, warm and stuffed with tourists wandering and laughing and taking pictures. I heard babies and toddlers crying and whining, and kids sprinting up and down the trail playing tag and accidentally photobombing the pictures of strangers. I continued and noticed the larger crowds gathering to snap a picture of something in the distance, still obstructed from my view, but something I knew could only be the General Sherman Tree.
It stood mightily at the center, surrounded by excited onlookers who looked like ants by comparison. It was crowded with admirers and yet it seemed strangely alone. A silent sage. A wise man who’d seen generations come and go, had witnessed all the great moments of human history from the very spot upon which it stood. I even pictured some legend of the silver screen growing old though still appearing ageless, encountering a crowd of photographers or tourists taking their picture, but just taking it in stride like a professional. They’re no stranger to the attention, after all. They’ve seen it all before.
I understood and appreciated the truth that trees, like all other plants on earth, are living breathing organisms. And the more I looked at General Sherman, a tree more than 3,000 years old, the more I appreciated the relevance of these truths concerning all living things on the planet. The more I looked at it, the more I connected with it.
I felt like it was looking way past me, somewhere far beyond where I stood; and that despite its age and wisdom and experience far superior to my own, it too was still something of a lost soul searching and still unsatisfied with everything it had so far understood its purpose to be on this earth. It was the king of these mountains, but it was still subservient to a higher order it didn’t fully understand.
A soft rain fell, more like a mist than a rain. It probably only lasted a minute, but it seemed longer, as if the rain had slowed down time. In that moment the surrounding tourists vanished from sight and left the two of us alone, facing eachother.
The rays of the sun beamed in through the forest, shining down on us both, revealing the tree in all its eternal youth and ancient power, as the reclusive angel, having kept its vigil for centuries way up here in this shadowy grove high up in the mountains.
We were pilgrims, old and young. Angel and man. Man and angel. Guardian angel, maybe. Brothers. In that moment, we were no longer separate from each other. We never had been. There I stood, once again remembering something I seemed to know long ago.
It was the first time in a long time that I’d felt this way about anything in nature. It wouldn’t be the last. Unbeknownst to me, an entire network existed, scattered far across the wilderness of America, and farther still, across the Atlantic Ocean and out to the far eastern reaches of Europe. It took the form of people I’d meet, and the many beautiful things I’d see along the way.
It was ocean and sky, woman and man, living and passed on. With them I felt connected in common cause: that each of us might reach the realization of love and respect for all living things. An understanding of our ongoing, unfailing connection to one another.
I remembered something from my early days in the church that made more sense to me now than it did before. As it was in the beginning, it is now and ever shall be. United in one breath, one beating heart.
The thought didn’t occur to me at the time, standing in the shadow of General Sherman and the mighty sequoia. It only does now, as I recall the story and wonder how it might sound to someone reading this. Truth be told, prior to this experience, I wasn’t much of an outdoors person. I liked to be outside as much as the next guy but I’d never really camped before at all, and I’d never done much hiking beyond the typical neighborhood hikes in and around LA.
I’d never spent much time in the mountains, amongst the trees whispering at night. I’d never lay quiet listening for melodies beside the creek in the early evening. I’d never breathed in the rush of the river beneath the new morning and the slow, rising sun.
I recently applied to a job that asked me to select the best pic of myself in the outdoors. It sounds like it could be an exciting one, a job where I’d be spending time in some of my favorite places, or one place depending on how you look at it. That is, the National Parks or in the broader sense, in nature.
To that point, I’ve come to see them less as individual places and it more as one larger whole. Our planet. I like that approach more.
It’s hard to say which picture could ever be the best, but this is the one I felt like posting–taken almost exactly four years ago.
Much has happened since then both in my life and throughout the world, and I’ve been fortunate to have gone on many adventures in the time in between. Hopefully I’m a strong sum of those experiences, as each was its own unique reminder of my connection to both land and people.
I’m not unique in that respect, since I know many who have turned to the outdoors and felt a similar way. Restored, replenished, readjusted to the point that their day-to-day ambitions either suddenly feel silly, or are just given renewed purpose in light of the bigger realization that they are a part of something bigger than themselves and their possessions.
While I can only hope it’s enough to help us recognize the importance of preserving these places—since all of us deserve to experience the land in equal measure—above all, I hope we each begin doing our part in preserving the integrity of our environment, for the health of our planet, our one true home, for our physical health, and ultimately for our sanity.
I look back on recent years and I think about people marching against gun violence, or against corporate greed on Wall Street. I think about people marching for Black lives and for our government’s full recognition of their humanity.
And I think about two weeks ago, when everyday I stepped out and saw a smoke-filled sky blotting out the sun due to devastating regional wildfires. In the back of my mind, the fire’s reach had far exceeded the limits of the west coast where I make my home. Indeed, the larger symbolism was hard to miss.
The issues of violence, racial justice, environmental justice and economic inequality are, I believe, inter-related. The dangers of climate change for example pose the most immediate threat to Black and Brown communities, a disproportionate number of which fall below the poverty line in the United States and throughout the world–a reality most clearly demonstrated in food and water shortages not just in third-world countries, but here at home.
Tackling the threat of climate change will not automatically close the gap on income inequality or accomplish comprehensive racial justice. Still you cannot adequately address problems in your house when your house is, quite literally, on fire; and truly, the fight for a healthy planet has the power to bring people of different backgrounds and beliefs together, likely more so than any movement we’ve ever witnessed. More to the point, it’s the understanding of our interconnectedness that will ultimately save us in virtually every domestic and global conflict we experience; and nowhere is that realization more critical than in the necessary global effort to mitigate climate change by cultivating a cleaner and more sustainable world for all people.
The act of getting outdoors, spending time in our public lands and in the broader wilderness of the world has the unique power to reinforce the fundamental reality of our interdependence and dependence on the land. It’s just one of many reasons why it’s so important they stay preserved and protected.
I often reflect on whether it will just be an ongoing battle for every generation between people committed to preserving our wilderness for the public benefit, and the people who seek to exploit the land for their own profit.
I hope that it won’t. Maybe the dual threats of climate change and a global pandemic will convince people of their stake in each other’s health and the health of our planet, and the influence will carry over through generations to come.
I only know that the need for such a realization has never been so urgent.
As for our wilderness, and it’s unmatched beauty and healing power, for now there’s little more I can say, other than to simply go, as soon as you can, and experience it for yourself.
Let’s please take care of our home. I am committed to doing my part and I hope you will join me. The Sierra Club is one of our nation’s most enduring and influential forces for environmental action and awareness. I’ve been a member for a couple years now and I urge you to consider joining and lending your support as well.
I used to complain about political correctness, even though I’d never actually met anyone who shamed me or embarrassed me due to my incorrectness. I wonder then whether most of the people who complain about it are just insecure people?
The growing consensus seems to be that everybody everywhere takes everything so personal all the time, which may yet be true.
For starters, the complaint seems far more warranted, say, with respect to professional comedy where part of what makes a joke funny at all is it’s irreverence, its breach of political correctness. If a comedian were constantly wanting to avoid offending people, that comedian would likely lose inspiration and give up the whole thing.
Comedy thrives on irreverence. Even so, the best comedians still grasp the basic concept of knowing how to read a room.
When people look at their life and really think about the number of times they’ve been slapped on the wrist by a friend, family member or acquaintance for using the wrong word or making an insensitive remark, is that number actually few and far between, if at all?
The way I see it, political correctness is a fact of life and always has been, no different from any other form of etiquette that will change depending on where you are in the world. The only difference now is that it’s been given a name, and stigmatized in the one sphere of public life where it’s probably essential–politics.
I wonder then whether people who complain about having their head bitten off for breaching that etiquette, who yearn for some comprehensive, universally agreed upon rubric for what’s ok and what’s not, and who then further expect it to never change, ever again—at least while they’re alive—are simply operating in some other reality; as if anything like that ever existed at all within the long span of human history and the diversity of cultures that make up this planet, let alone the ones that make up this country.
They’ll mention how it used to be different years ago, how somethings were ok and others were not—as if the ideal sort of history of language and expression is a static one.
People once used words like ‘thee’ and ‘thou’, words like ‘colored’, just as men once wore stockings and wigs out in public. And yet if you spoke or dressed that way today, you’d look like a jackass. Why? Because things eventually fall out of fashion. And yes, it might be a phenomenon but if we can’t accept it, then we might want to find ourselves another planet.
The complaint ignores the fundamental truth that language changes because people change. It ignores the fact that larger, free-thinking societies are quite naturally heterogenous. The bigger they are, the more diverse they will likely become, with each community and sub-community developing their own customs and standards of decorum. Political correctness, then, at the very least seems to represent that basic truth in the matter of how we converse with one another, when each of us comes from a different background and our own sphere of personal experience.
I’ve noticed that people who travel a lot typically have no problem understanding this, because they’ve spent a good amount of time in communities other than their own. They learned to adapt, and often a part of them even enjoys navigating the complexities of different cultures.
They don’t get upset over the fact that they have to learn a new language, they embrace it as an opportunity. If something changes in the country or community they visit and they have to adapt yet again, they don’t dismiss the people as petty and refuse to budge any further.
They are often driven by an appetite for learning new things, and a wonder before all the intricacies of the world and its many points of view.
They don’t get hung up on the possibility of making a mistake here and there, because they’ve already accepted the high possibility that they will make one sooner or later.
However, that leads to another point of discussion.
Could those who are hip to the changing tides of fashion be more polite about it? Do they have to be such a dick about it? Is being woke, for example, nothing more than a matter of bragging rights, one that ultimately involves shaming all those who are out of the loop?
I’ve never encountered anyone like that, but if and when I do, I don’t think it will surprise me. I used to complain about political correctness because I’d automatically bought into the notion that these types of people were everywhere and running absolutely wild…even though I never met one.
I think it had to do with insecurity. My own fear of making a fool of myself led to a defense mechanism against the enemy I had never actually seen. If these woke people exist–and I do think there are a few out there–then I imagine they are likely motivated by the same fear. Fear of not being hip, fear of looking like an idiot, or just someone out of step with the times. An outsider.
I don’t think there’s anything necessarily wrong with being ignorant. I think the real pity is either burrowing yourself in your ignorance, or over-compensating in the direction of righteousness or enlightenment, all for the sake of never being wrong and being some kind of insider.
Personally I think it’s more fun being a little bit of both, having one foot on the inside and another on the out.
It’s one reason I like to travel. I like knowing that I can adapt easily enough to changing surroundings, and I know doing that involves a flexibility of perspective, a willingness to listen and an actual openness to being wrong every once in a while.
It’s something I’d forgotten about myself, but I think it’s a good lesson for all of us to remember. It might make life a little more complicated now and then, but with the slightest tweak in perspective, if we can set aside our ego, it might also make life a whole lot more enriching.
These days we’re hearing more and more about the Green New Deal and rightfully so.Given the devastating wildfires along the west coast, which only seem to grow in number and intensity each year in proportion to rising global temperatures, we think that a Green New Deal sounds great right about now.
But what exactly is it?What does it entail and is it practical?We did a little research and were able to iron out some nuts and bolts, say, for your added consideration when casting your vote this year. So let’s take a look.
The Green New Deal is a congressional resolution, essentially the most comprehensive plan for mitigating climate change and reducing income inequality put to paper by our government so far.
It was drafted last year by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, both Democrats, and it takes its name from the New Deal of the 1930s, a series of programs and regulations enacted by President Roosevelt as a means to help the United States recover from the Great Depression.
It emphasizes that climate change and income inequality are inextricably linked, and that the proposals would cultivate a cleaner environment and create new jobs.
These proposals include a sweeping national mobilization effort that would be implemented over a ten-year period, one that includes sourcing 100 percent of our power demand from renewable energy and zero-emission resources (e.g. wind, water, solar).
It calls for the overhaul of our transportation system to remove pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector as much as possible–by investing in zero-emission vehicle infrastructure and manufacturing, in affordable and accessible public transit, and in a high-speed rail system.
Additionally, the resolution says it’s the duty of the federal government to provide job training for new workers, particularly those families and communities who currently rely on their jobs in fossil fuels.
But is it feasible? Can it actually work? That’s where things seem to get a little tricky.
Almost 80 percent of America’s power still comes from fossil fuels, a resource that is relatively cheap and plentiful. Another problem is that the cost of these new initiatives would indeed be expensive, though supporters argue that it’s a cost that would pay for itself in the long run.
Additionally, as Republicans are equally quick to point out, the Green New Deal would involve a greater government presence in many facets of public life to adequately implement the standards necessary for curbing our greenhouse gas emissions. In short, it would go against the common instincts and virtues intimately linked with modern American industry, namely less federal regulation and more privatization.
Now to that point, one might hope that a global pandemic might shift the collective consciousness enough to translate into policy that actually reflects the popular sentiment that we’re all in this together. After all, when it comes to climate change, that sentiment has never been so true.
The logistical obstacles most often mentioned are the costs and the ten-year timeline. While the cost of reaching the goals outlined in the resolution would amount in the trillions, the cost of continued inaction would almost certainly amount to trillions more.
While technological experts agree that ten years might be too short a time to achieve the zero-carbon infrastructure outlined, they do agree that 20-25 years is more viable if we get to work now.
Something is better than nothing. While the logistical dilemmas might be valid, specifically whether ten years is too short a time, the simple truth is that we need to try.
Every time we hear about the threat of climate change–a threat, by the way, that is already here–we naturally begin talking about solutions. And the solution is basically the same every time, involving each of us making individual sacrifices for a greater more common good. The Green New Deal is essentially that very realization put to paper and hopefully, ultimately national policy.
If the fundamental ideas of the Green New Deal seem far-fetched, then it says an awful lot more about us then it does about the ideas themselves. To throw up our hands and say it’s all a fantasy is to say that we’re incapable of working together to promote the general welfare.
Of course any such notion is nonsense, and a person only needs to look at history to understand why.
It’s very appropriate that the resolution borrows its name from the New Deal of the Depression. Then as now, Americans were facing a cataclysmic event that had upended public life for several years, not to mention the looming threat of a second world war. It begs the question of just how catastrophic things need to get here and now before ordinary people across this land recognize a similar sense of investment in one another.
Despite the logistical issues this new new deal, it’s still the most tangible form of action we have yet realized in addressing climate change through legislation.
If we cannot succeed in every aspect of it, we might succeed with some if not most of it–and some is most certainly better than none.
It’s a blueprint, at the very least, a guideline we can follow in the years to come for enacting policy that would provide for a more sustainable environment and equitable society. Of course that’s no small thing, and we personally put more trust in those who see its value versus those who outrightly dismiss it.
John Lewis has received a great deal of praise over the last several weeks following his passing in July.
Everyone from former presidents and congressional leaders to the innumerable voices in social media have highlighted his legacy fighting for Civil Rights both on the streets as he marched with Martin Luther King and in the halls of Congress where he served as a Georgia Representative for over 30 years.
We’ve heard about his near-death encounter with Alabama State Troopers on the Edmund Pettus Bridge while peacefully marching for the equal right to vote, and his multiple arrests in the name of what he called getting into good, necessary trouble.
What few people may realize is how the very thing for which he fought has been jeopardized these last seven years, and how its restoration formed a driving cause to which he dedicated his remaining years as a legislator and citizen.
In 2013, the Supreme Court removed a key component of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, one that required districts with a history of voter suppression to get federal approval, or preclearance, before making any changes to their election laws.
The Court ruled that the provision as it stood was based on antiquated data, essentially stating that the barriers which once disenfranchised Black voters in those districts no longer exist. If the Federal Government wanted to reclaim its oversight, the Court ruled, it would have to do so based on contemporary data.
So while the preclearance provision still exists, it’s no longer being applied, since the specific districts once required to get the federal approval are no longer required to do so. Many of these districts are comprised of southern Black communities.
“Today the Supreme Court stuck a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965,” said Lewis at the time of the ruling. “They’re saying, in effect that history cannot repeat itself. But I say come and walk in my shoes.”
While it’s true that the more overt forms of voter suppression are gone–such as poll taxes and literacy tests–many others still remain such as the restricting of early voting, the arbitrary re-drawing of district maps, strict voter identification laws, and the closing of over 1,600 polling places between 2012 and 2018 in those same districts once required to get federal approval before making any of these changes. In Texas, 750 polling places closed following the Court ruling. Most of these closures took place between the 2014 and 2018 mid-term elections.
In December, the House passed a bill to restore the Voting Rights Act. Congressman Lewis led the drafting of the bill, which was based on the updated data the Court had ruled necessary. After the congressman’s passing in July, the bill was renamed in his honor–The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act of 2020.
It has yet to be passed in the Senate. It currently sits on Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk, as it has for well over 200 days.
Without a Democratic majority in the Senate, and while President Trump remains in office with his power to veto, it is unlikely the bill will be signed into law.
Note: Election Day has yet to be declared a federal holiday, though it consistently falls on work days in which many Americans don’t have the time to get to their polling place and vote. Colombus Day, meanwhile, is still a federal holiday. Let’s all vote this year, yes?
It was a year ago today, around my birthday, when I was thinking a lot about Italy and the food I’ve loved since I was a boy.
I never thought of myself as much of a cook, but over the past year I’ve come to see that the fundamentals of cooking aren’t half as complicated as I thought.
And while I can’t pinpoint exactly how or why it began with marinara sauce, I think it had something to do with travel.
I was 18 years old when I first visited Italy and the experience changed my life. For one thing, it was one of the first countries where I spent any good amount of time outside of the States. Not only did it broaden my perspective, but it did so in a way that inspired a deeply-rooted trust in the basic goodness of people, a trust that continues to this day.
Never in my life had I met people who were so consistently happy, helpful and welcoming; and the realization was enough to make me weep especially when complimented with a cuisine so unbelievably good that I was convinced I could feel the love of a people put into it with every bite.
And then of course, there was the wine. I’d never really sipped or much less enjoyed wine before, but that first night in Rome marked the beginning of a love affair which, as my best friends will certainly tell you, also lasts to this day. Chianti remains my favorite wine. Forever and always.
Simply put, Italy is one of the most friendly, romantic, sexy, joyous and culturally rich countries I have ever visited in my life. It was an incredible way to begin what I further hope is a long life of travel.
So I guess I can tell you exactly why I began my cooking trip with marinara sauce–because every time I make it, I reflect on these experiences. I think about the old ruins and cobblestone streets of Rome, the ornate fountains, the candlelit restaurants that feel like they might stay open all night. I think about the hills and cypress trees of Tuscany, and the Arno River in Florence glowing in the moonlight. I think about the history. The ghosts of the Coliseum. I think about the art. The art! This is the land of Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci. The Renaissance. The opera! This is La Dolce Vita and the surrealist dreams of Fellini and the great masters of Italian cinema.
It’s a place where time doesn’t exist except in all the right ways, and for all the right reasons, where you’ll see flashes of modernity amid the backdrop of ancient ruins. For me, life is a flashing moment and one great big beautiful trip that ought to be celebrated and revered. Italy is a place that encapsulates that realization, one that I hope is a realization for the rest of the world that encourages us to not take life for granted, but to cherish it and truly cherish one another.
Finally there’s one other reason why I appreciate making the sauce. As it’s a reminder of that first experience in Italy, perhaps by extension, it also reminds me of the excitement in beginning something new, something that’s about to unfold in a way I can’t even begin to imagine.
It’s the thrill of being a beginner, when everything is unknown and mysterious and you’re unburdened by any heavy expectation because, in the beginning, you’re too humble and open-minded to indulge it. I try to maintain that mindset in everything that I do. Though I’ve learned and experienced a lot in the time in between, I still like to consider myself an amateur. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Now, let’s get to the dish. Like many people, Italian food is my favorite cuisine, and though I’m inclined to say that it’s more the intangibles that I appreciate the most–the warmth, the attitude, the lack of pretentiousness, the familial, convivial nature of the restaurants and the country, the red wine and all those wonderful things I mentioned earlier–if there is one constant that makes me enjoy Italian food as much as I do, I would have to say it all comes down to the sauce.
Since I was new to cooking, I figured marinara was a simple enough dish to start, since it incorporated so many basic principles of cooking: using fresh ingredients, prepping the ingredients, using oils and garlic effectively, knowing how and when to add salt for taste, and then, my favorite part, the process of letting something cook slowly while you periodically check in to stir, maybe add more salt or get a better idea of how much time you have left. Of course, you’ll likely add your own flourishes and personal touch with time, as I typically do myself, but here are the fundamentals.
1 can of whole tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
7-10 cloves of garlic
A little basil
And that’s all you need my friends.
Prep your garlic by slicing thin. The thinner the better.
Crush the tomatoes by hand in a big bowl.
Add the oil to the pan and heat over medium, add the garlic and then let it sizzle, 1-2 minutes so it doesn’t burn. When that happens, go ahead and add the crushed tomatoes. I like to add a cup of water, which I’ve poured into the empty can of tomatoes to get any remaining bit of sauce.
From here, just let it look and stir every twenty or thirty minutes. Add salt to taste. When it starts smelling real good and the water has absorbed, you’ll have your sauce, finish off with thinly sliced basil. Buon appetito!
As you can see, we’ve provided our own curated Spotify playlist above. If you’re looking for upbeat, Louis Prima is the way to go. If you’re looking for romantic, try anything by the legendary tenor Luciano Pavarotti. You might also consider the soundtrack to the Godfather.
For some reason I enjoy listening to film scores when I cook. Another great album is the score for Anatomy of a Murder by Duke Ellington. If you’re looking for smooth, try Quincy Jones’ I Dig Dancers or The Quintessence, or Henry Mancini’s score to the Pink Panther.