I’ve been thinking about history lately and its incremental steps forward, about how when you set it against a larger backdrop of social progression, how it seems like an inevitable march towards true liberation and freedom.
On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall riots occurred in Greenwich Village, in New York City. This was a seminal moment in LGBT history that really gave momentum to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for gay rights in the United States and eventually, the world. As LGBT people, June is our month, in which we celebrate what it means to be “out and proud”, to live authentic lives immersed in truth, to be ourselves and to revel in our diversity. In less than two weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will decide two cases related to same-sex marriage that may affect, for good or for ill, the lives of thousands of LGBT Americans of all walks of life. What a long and twisting road that has been.
A discussion arose with a friend not too long ago on whether the United States is at heart, a racist country whose society is intolerant. Now, you have to understand that my experience living in the U.S. is from the point of view of an immigrant. I was born in the Philippines and came here to the States as a child. When my mother became a naturalized citizen, I automatically became one as well. While I have occasionally encountered a troglodyte who hasn’t quite developed his social skills, on the whole, my life experience living in this country has been positive. My friend — who, by the way, lives in Norway and who has never been to the U.S. — constantly hears from his American friends and acquaintances about how much more we need to progress as a nation, in terms of civility, tolerance and respect. I countered that while every country has its negative elements amongst its citizenry, we balance those with a positive outlook towards others. As for Americans, we are truly a gorgeous, diverse mosaic of differences made stronger by our kinship to one another.
You can imagine my dismay in light of this conversation given the number of attacks and hate crimes against the LGBT community that have occurred in New York City and elsewhere in the past few weeks. While I don’t really know what’s going on in Russia as to why there’s been an increase in anti-gay attitudes over there, the rise in gay bashing here in NYC has left me perturbed. Things aren’t so bad that I’m looking over my shoulder when I’m out and about, but the recent spate of bashing has made me a little bit more aware than normal. I’m hoping that if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in our favor regarding same-sex marriage, that there isn’t a backlash.
It’s at times like these that I’m strongly reminded of this interview on one of America’s Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson, part of which is excerpted below. I wonder sometimes whether my Norwegian friend knows my adopted country better than I do.
Q: “…You are engaged in a historical analysis of a philosophical figure, and we can talk about Jefferson in context, we can talk about his flaws. Philosophers love to cite the ad hominem fallacy — that regardless of what a person is, their truth is truth. And so if an obese doctor tells you you’re supposed to lose some weight, it doesn’t matter that he or she is obese. If a pack-a-day cigarette smoker tells you you’re not supposed to smoke, that’s true. So to what extent can you look at Jefferson and say, “Forget about the figure, let’s talk about ideas, let’s talk about concepts. Let’s talk about the ambiguity of the phrase ‘the wall of separation between church and state’. Let’s talk about ‘self-evident truths’. To what extent can we engage in Jefferson as a philosopher rather than as a historical figure?”
A: “Well, I would like to just hold up a mirror and make you answer that question. This is really a serious philosophical question. I mean, there are two views of this. One view is that Jefferson is the obese doctor, that he’s a slaveholder, that he has relations with Sally Hemmings, that he’s a miscegenationist, and so on, and so forth, but that his vision is which was really an articulation of the Enlightenment’s principles, that vision is eternal, it’s ideal, it’s universal in its application not just to the people of the United States but to the people of Sri Lanka and Angola, and that as John Locke put it, ‘in the beginning, all the world was America’ meaning the forest; in the end says Jefferson, ‘all the world will be America’, that every nation will live according to constitutional forms and bills of rights, and so on. That’s one view, and I actually hold that view in most of my moods.
“The post-modern view is that these are just a set of abstractions held out by a power elite. They never really meant what we’d say they mean, that Jefferson’s own incapacity to live even minimally according to those ideals not only discredits him, it discredits those ideals. When you say something like ‘all men are created equal’ and there has never been an instance of this in the history of the planet, you’re saying nonsense. And so you face this every day. What Jefferson is arguing, these universals — free speech, free press, freedom of religion, habeas corpus, the right not to incriminate oneself, the tolerance and forbearance in foreign policy, mutuality and civility — they’re marvelous things to say, but if they can’t be realized even by our best individuals, then maybe they are cracked at their core. And I think that’s the debate that we are having … and I think the cultural studies movement has gone too far with this, but I think it is rightly asked whether the obese doctor isn’t just a sham.”
A little food for thought in any event, in this month of Pride.
Pasta with Heirloom Tomatoes and Clam Sauce
Not every Italian dish has to have garlic in it.
If you don’t have Belgian-style beer, you can substitute white wine instead. I like Ommegang Hennepin for its notes of ginger and citrus that pair it well with pork and seafood.
1 lb. clams
2 tablespoons minced celery leaves
1 tablespoon lemon zest, sliced into a chiffonade
1 large shallot, peeled, trimmed and thinly sliced
1/2 cup Belgian-style beer
1 carrot, peeled, trimmed and finely chopped
1 celery stalk, trimmed and finely chopped
1 small or medium-sized onion, peeled, trimmed and finely chopped
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 diced heirloom tomatoes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
sea salt, to taste
freshly milled black pepper, to taste
In a large pot, combine the clams, celery leaves, lemon zest and Belgian beer. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and partially cover. Steam the clams for 7-8 minutes or until clams have opened. Discard any clams that don’t open; let cool. Shell clams and set aside. Strain the liquid and reserve.
Warm olive oil and butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add celery, carrot and onion to the pan and cook until vegetables have softened, about 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Don’t add salt, and don’t let the mixture brown.
If you let the battuto brown, it will affect the taste and color of the resulting sauce. Low and slow is the way to go, so that the sauce has a gentle and mellow sweetness that results as you coax the flavors out of the aromatic vegetables.
When the vegetables have become softened, add chopped heirloom tomatoes, oregano and Italian parsley. Taste for salt and pepper. Let that cook down or until the sauce thickens nicely. Add the clams and reserved clam steaming liquid. Continue to cook over low heat, stirring occasionally.
Prepare the pasta. Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a boil, then add your dried pasta. Cook until the pasta is al dente, then drain. Add the pasta to the pan and heat through, about 1-2 minutes. Taste once more for salt and pepper, stir in minced Italian parsley, then serve immediately. Cheese optional.
Time: About 1 hour, not including prep.
This recipe is sized for 2 to 3 people.