Discover more from Cathleen Falsani: This Numinous World
My Favourite Things (MFT): June 26
The inaugural installment of a weekly round-up of stuff I like, from films, television, and music, to recipes, books, products, and experiences I've had that I really dig and hope you might, too.
Hey fam. Hope everybody’s OK and enjoying this side of the summer solstice.
As I’m busy ghostwriting a book this summer, the things I also want to write about at length but don’t have the time to do is piling up like laundry in my college dorm room. I have to do something with this heap of goodness, so I’m going to share it in annotated listical form here once a week. (I have not been paid or otherwise incentivized to promote anything in my list of favourite things. Nor will I. These are legitimately creations/experiences I want to celebrate and share simply because they are worthy of appreciation.)
The MFT posts will be free this week and next, and then will move to a feature available only to paid subscribers.
I will post longer essays when I am able — there’s one coming soon about Season Two of The Bear, which is … ohmygodsogood. While I finish collecting my thoughts for that post, here, kicking off the inaugural This Numinous World MFT, is something special I made for you.
The Bear (Season Two) Soundtrack
Both seasons of The Bear, the magnificent FX/Hulu drama/dramedy set around a young chef and his extended family (biological and logical, to borrow a phrase from Armistead Maupin) in Chicago have used music as an integral part of the storytelling.
Series creator Christopher Storer and co-executive producer Josh Senior also serve as music supervisors, handpicking the songs that function as characters in the narrative, and I’m so glad they did because it’s as if they reached into the archives of the soundtrack of my life and hit shuffle. Sonically, the show feels to me almost like an emotional atlas for navigating the 20 formative years I spent in Chicago, a city that will always feel like home and that I miss terribly.
Because the music in The Bear Season Two in particular is so meaningful to me, I thought I’d make a playlist so that you could hear it too, even if you haven’t watched the show (or haven’t watched it yet.) The songs are listed in chronological order as they appear in the series and include repeats of tracks as they are repeated in the show. (Hey R.E.M., hey!) My thanks to Jordan Williams from Screenrant for doing the heavy lifting of drawing a road map of Season Two’s songs and what went where.
UPDATE: I’ve added the same playlist on APPLE MUSIC HERE.
Yusuf Cat Stevens’ set at Glastonbury
I’ve been listening to Yusuf Cat Stevens’ music for as long as I’ve had ears. I re-discovered him on my own in college, snapping up used vinyl copies of Tea for the Tillerman, Teaser and the Firecat, and Buddha and the Chocolate Box that I still have in my collection 30-odd years later.
Stevens wrote the soundtrack to my hands-down favourite film of all time: 1971’s Harold & Maude.
He enjoyed massive popular and critical success for a decade, and then, in 1977 he had a spiritual epiphany after a near-drowning experience in LA and changed his life, dedicating his heart and time to Islam, stepping away from performing songs from his “old” life for nearly two decades. By the time I was playing his early albums on heavy rotation in college, he hadn’t played them live in at least a dozen years.
Yes, I know all about his complicated history and various controversies. No, it doesn’t change the way I feel about his music. It moves me. It always has. It’s deeply spiritual. It always was.
On Sunday, Stevens’ played the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival in the UK — in the “legends” spot — and I just stumbled upon it live. The 74-year-old troubador played for 75 minutes, his voice nearly as pristine as it was more than 50 years ago (not sure how he and Paul Simon have managed to pull it off, but they have.)
The 21-song set was extraordinary. I was in tears for most of it. (Here’s the setlist.) The massive Glastonbury crowd was rapt, singing along to the songs they knew so well and listening attentively when he played a couple of newer tunes. He covered George Harrison and Nina Simone, offered prayers of peace for the pilgrims making the Haj in Mecca right now, and ended with a blessing of peace for all of us.
Stevens opened with “The Wind” and closed with “Father and Son.” Somewhere in the middle he performed the song “Sitting” from his 1972 album, Catch a Bull at Four, where one passage of the lyrics seemed to sum up how he got from where he was to where he is, and how any of us might:
Oh life is like a maze of doors
And they all open from the side you're on
Just keep on pushing hard boy, try as you may
You're going to wind up where you started from
If you have access to the BBC iPlayer (because you’re in the coverage region or have a VPN and a clever work-around) you can watch the entire 75-minute-long set HERE and there are bits and pieces popping up on YouTube, etc.)
Marc Maron’s Sunday livestreams on Instagram
My ardor for Marc Maron and his work is not exactly a well-kept secret. I adore this tender-hearted mensch who walks around in a curmudgeon’s costume much of the time. He may be cranky but he’s a lot more than just that.
I see you, Marc.
A few weeks back, my friend Melinda and I caught his show at the Largo in Los Angeles, where he performed a bunch of songs with his band, interspersed with standup (his and that of a couple of comedian guests) for more than three hours. I smiled and laughed so hard and for so long both my face and my abs were sore the next day. It was glorious.
You may know Maron from his comedy specials or his acting on TV (Maron, GLOW, Reservation Dogs) and the big screen (Joker, Respect, Sword of Trust) — his performance in To Leslie was one of the finest (and most overlooked, IMHO) of last year. If you haven’t seen it, do. You can find it pretty much anywhere films are streamed.
Or you may know Maron from his long-running podcast WTF with Marc Maron, which is, without question, my favourite podcast. Period. He asks great questions, listens well, and is more than mildly interested/obsessed with spiritual things. He would argue, I’d imagine, that he’s not. But he is. Take his conversation recently with director/auteur Paul Schrader. It’s gold. He’s better at this than some of the professional religion journalists I know. (I just recently discovered and inhaled his 2001 memoir The Jerusalem Syndrome: My Life as a Reluctant Messiah, which is so damn good I was pissed I didn’t know about it 22 years ago when it first came out.)
What you might not know is that on most Sundays (late morning California time, usually) Marc takes to Instagram and goes live. He putters around his lovely home in Glendale, talks to his cats Buster, Sammy, and “asshole kitten” Charles (upon all of whom he clearly and lovingly dotes). He drinks coffee, takes his supplements, shows you what’s in his fridge and the fermenting jar on his kitchen counter. He gives updates on his diet (he went vegan recently) and his hiking and his gigs and why his hair is doing what it’s doing at the moment (it’s for a movie). He walks through the yard and kvetches about the landscaping, talks to birds, goes upstairs to his extensive vinyl collection and spins some obscure cuts and usually ends up in his podcasting studio noodling on one of his many guitars. If you’re really lucky, you might get a field trip to the local grocery store (the one with the tables of old Armenian men and women giving customers the stink eye on the way in and out) for a couple of bottles of bleach or listen to him bicker with his pal Debra Winger in the comments section.
Maron’s IG Lives are, to me, reliably and oddly compelling. I have an alert set so I don’t miss him when he goes live, but if I do miss one, the livestreams are archived as reels on Maron’s IG page.
Getting Unstuck with Pema Chodron
Last week, I was feeling particularly stuck — physically, creatively, emotionally. There’s a lot going on and fairly epic changes on the horizon. I’m trying my best to prepare and part of that means, for me, breaking patterns and habits that are less than life-giving and joy-inducing at a time when I need both in ample supply.
So, I turned, as I often have done in times such as these, to the teachings of a wise elder, in this case Pema Chödrön, the Tibetan Buddhist nun and spiritual teacher of great renown. Her book, The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, was instrumental in getting me through my mother’s death and its aftermath, as well as steering me toward the soul work around fear that has consumed much of my personal and creative time for the last several years.
I was hiking when I had one of those moments of clarity where the only thing I could do was yell, “Help!” at God, at the Universe. I stopped in my tracks, literally, and searched Audible for something from Ani Pema that I hadn’t listened to yet, and up popped Getting Unstuck: Breaking Your Habitual Patterns and Encountering Naked Reality. It’s a little more than three hours long, taken from a series of talks she gave in, I believe, the early aughts. In it she introduces listeners to the Tibetan Buddhist concept of shenpa — a kind of pre-emotional feeling of discomfort that arises when something triggers us and we try to escape the discomfort by scratching the itch, which only makes it worse.
Ani Pema’s delivery is bubbly and soothing. She could be reading the U.S. Tax Code and my shoulders would drop a few inches. I found these short lessons accessible and helpful in at least starting to pull myself out of the muddy morass of self-doubt and self-criticism I’d trapped myself in, one foot at a time. And she’s funny. I like my mystics with a good sense a humor. (Hi, Father Richard!)
Recognition, refrain, relaxing, and resolve are four keys to getting unstuck, Ani Pema says, but none of them works without a heaping dose of radical lovingkindness toward yourself and acceptance of all that your are, even the cranky, itchy, grumpy, stuck parts.
Last Friday night, my friend Melinda (of Maron-at-the-Largo fame) came over for dinner and to watch the classic (and classically quirky) documentary film Grey Gardens. We’d both seen it before, several times, but never together because it wasn’t available on VHS when we were in college together and discovered other cinematic treasures from the 1970s, such as Harold & Maude. We determined we would remedy that glaring cultural shared-experience oversight as soon as possible.
She arrived before sunset and we had drinks on the lanai and watched for whales and dolphins as the orange sun slowly disappeared into the Pacific. By the time we came inside, it was chilly enough that my husband had lit a fire in the fireplace. We curled up on couches with bowls of Waldorf salad with grilled chicken and watched the original Grey Gardens followed by a more recently released documentary of footage shot more or less contemporaneously called That Summer.
The next morning, over breakfast we watched the 2009 feature film adaptation of the Grey Gardens story featuring Jessica Lange as Big Edie and Drew Barrymore as Little Edie Beale. By the time that was over, we were Bealed out, but if we had mustered the bandwidth, there was one more documentary we could have added before lunch: The Beales of Grey Gardens.
Below is the full billing, should you decide to grab your favourite cardigan sweater to wear as a scarf and fishnet stockings over shorts under a skirt made from a curtain and summon your inner STAUNCH WOMAN, and throw a do-it-yourself Grey Gardens film festival of your own.
Hershey’s ice cream and Purina cat food for the raccoons not included.
Grey Gardens: The original 1975 documentary by brother filmmakers Albert and Davis Maysles about the eccentric fallen aristocrats, mother-and daughter Big Edie and Little Edie Beale and their once-grand home in East Hampton, New York, shot over the course of 1974. The Maysles originally began shooting footage in 1972 while working on a film about the childhood of Beales cousins Lee Radziwell and her sister Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onasis in East Hampton, but after the Maysles met the Beales and they became the focus of the film, Radziwell pulled funding for the film. The Maysles returned to Grey Gardens two years later independently to finish the documentary that has since become a cult classic.
That Summer: The 2017 documentary made from footage shot in the summer of 1972 for the documentary that Radziwell asked the Maysles to make about her childhood in the Hamptons. It includes interviews with the artist Peter Beard and footage of Andy Warhol (at his seldom-visited country home in Montauk), John John and Caroline Kennedy, Truman Capote, and early footage of the Beales.)
Grey Gardens: The 2009 feature film starring Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore as Big and Little Edie explores more of the tragic backstory of Grey Gardens, the Beales’ declension, and what happened after the Maysles documentary was released.
The Beales of Grey Gardens: The 2006 documentary released by Albert and David Maysles made from unseen archival footage from the original Grey Gardens documentary shoots in 1972 and 1974.
A classic Waldorf salad
Because it says summer in the ‘70s to me. I used this recipe, with two parts vegan yogurt to one part mayonnaise, added cubed grilled chicken, and served it over a bed of little gems butter lettuce.
Sherman Alexie’s Poems on Substack
My old pal Sherman Alexie (he was profiled in my first book, The God Factor, waaaaay back in 2006) has been writing up a storm on Substack, including some truly beautiful poetry, such as the one he dropped earlier today titled “The Undiscovered Country | An elegy for a childhood friend.”
Alexie rarely shares anything these days for which he hasn’t seemingly opened a vein to source. I’ve always loved his writing and I particularly admire what he’s up to these days. Maybe you will, too. You can find his Substack HERE.
Chinese Five Spice Bitters
As some of you know, I haven’t been indulging in strong drink since the rattlesnake got me last September. My Lyme doctor asked me to give my liver a break for a year as it would be working hard to get rid of all that venom.
I enjoy a cocktail, for the ritual as much as anything else, and so I’ve found alternatives to alcohol that still feel festive and fussy. To wit my ever-expanding collection of artisanal bitters. The latest addition is Bitter Queens Shanghai Shirley Chinese 5 Spice Bitters, which makes everything from soda water to faux-bubbly taste exotic, like you might be sipping it under the red lights of a 1920s opium den.
It’s a little spendy but I’m happy with the purchase. I ordered mine here.
Olivier Napa Valley’s Strawberry Black Pepper Shrub
Speaking of nonalcoholic alternatives (and Melinda, again), shrubs have become an occasional indulgence for me, especially now that the weather is finally getting a bit more summery here in SoCal where it’s been raining basically since Christmas.
For the uninitiated, shrubs are concentrated syrups made from fruit, aromatics, sugar, and vinegar that are generally mixed into soda water or similar. Because of the added sugar, I don’t have them often, but they’re delicious. My favourite is one Melinda gifted me with last year, found another bottle of at a farmer’s market in Napa recently, and brought it with her on Friday night. We hadn’t been able to find it for sale online, so I called the family-run business in California’s wine country earlier today, and the store manager helped me find a link for it online.
If you’d like to try my favourite shrub, Olivier Napa Valley’s Strawberry Black Pepper, you can find it right here.
Jeremy Allen White and Jennifer Coolidge in Conversation
Ms. Coolidge (of White Lotus, Legally Blonde, Christopher Guest’s mockumentary ensemble, and all the things) is a legend and an absolute goddess. Mr. White (currently starring in The Bear) is a rising star shining brightly in this summer sky. They’re both actor’s actors. And this candid conversation is as delightful as it is insightful.
(BTW, there are loads of Jennifer Coolidge votive candles available all over the place. This one, from Aint Saint on Etsy, is my favourite.)