Drinking Holy Water
I completed my surgical internship at Loma Linda University Medical Center, a Seventh Day Adventist affiliated hospital. Growing up, I'd never met any Seventh Day Adventists, so their religious mores and traditions were entirely foreign to me upon arrival in the ER. For instance, there is no caffeine - anywhere, at least legitimately. It's hard to psych yourself up for a "great day" in the ICU or a long night of trauma call with only diet Sprite for pep. Luckily, terrific floor nurses provided us with contraband, high octane joe, and a neighborhood Starbucks knock-off turned a profitable business just across the street. Abstinence from alcohol goes without saying. Strangely, the hospital cafeterias are devoid of pepper (a stimulant) and meat, too. I suffered many bouts of turkey-like sandwich reflux since we were awarded free meal tickets for enduring overnight call. As a Jew, dietary restrictions are not new to me. Under Jewish law, I am taught to abstain from all pork products, shellfish, and dairy/meat in combination. Obviously, God puts the brakes on my ridiculously hard-core pizza with prosciutto, beets, and pancetta-caramelized onions. But then he's never specifically tasted it either.
Despite this embarrassing richness of kindling for incendiary explosions of un-PC, base, and immature religious jokes, it was the hospital's wall murals that became the central target of our offensive one-liners. A religious-themed collection of oversized murals decorated the walls of the public spaces, each depicting Jesus with a physician. In every painting, and there were quite a few of them, Jesus would be lurking over the physician's shoulder as she/he treated patients in their various fields of medicine. For instance, we saw Jesus in the OR, whispering into the surgeon's ear, "Hey man, don't nick that artery. The aorta's a real gusher!" Or "Listen, I think that kid in the corner has mumps. I'd check the CDC website if I were you," as he leaned in close to the pediatrician's left ear. Being Jewish, I felt severely disadvantaged: Jesus doesn't feed me the answers; I have to study instead. I learned this the hard way after one surgeon threw a scalpel at my head after I failed to correctly identify a particular nerve. He actually made me break scrub, go down to the library, retrieve the Netter anatomy atlas, and return to the OR after researching the correct answer. Then after answering a few questions about the pertinent anatomy, I was allowed to scrub back in on the case. This happened three times over the course of a 2 hour case. Jesus, are you out there? Throw me a bone, man.
To this day, I remain curiously drawn to traditional religious imagery. It is so thickly intertwined with memories of my surgical internship. Perhaps this is why I was instantly taken with the label on Emmerich Knoll's Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Vinothekfüllung Loibner, adorned with a golden-hued image of a Pope or some Cardinal holding a staff. He looked like the no-nonsense kind of guy who might whack a girl with a long stick for forgetting her Austrian geography (see picture below). But since I love Grüners, I moved past the haunting label. And happily so, for this small production "Vinothekfullung" bottling was another among the amazing wines we tasted for Brian's birthday. If you've never tasted a Grüner from Austria, please go sample one soon. Grüners are accessible, fresh, tropical-fruity, often peppery and sometimes honeyed white wines from Austria. Vibrant acidity allows this wine stand up to some serious food, like the sweet pea risotto in our pairing. But, enough wine talk; back to the opulent label.
I have since learned that the gilded, crimson-caped icon adorning the bottle is one Saint Urban of Langres, a French saint and bishop who was consecrated in 374. On the label, he clutches a staff in one hand and bunch of grapes with the other. He is flanked by two, fat naked cherubs, one of whom is also holding grapes. The myth of St. Urban tells of his hiding from religious prosecutors in the vineyard. Of course afterwards, once St. Urban was deemed safe, the vineyard hands who hid him conveniently converted to Christianity. So by proxy, St. Urban is considered the patron saint of vintners, wine growers, and all persons working in the wine industry. He is also invoked against alcoholism, but that seems like a conflict of interest, right? A multi-tasker, St. Urban also protects against blight and frost, two natural disasters I'm hoping to avoid in our 2009 harvest. (Unfortunately "protection from smoke taint" wasn't specifically addressed on the saints website or I might consider converting to Catholicism myself.)
All this now brings me back full circle, feeling a little left out of the action because of my religious standing. So do Catholics get special enological/viticultural dispensation from God, on behalf of the patron saints of wine? Somehow I don't think invoking the hard-partying, hung over, and polytheistic Bacchus carries the same weight. I think I'd better check to see if our winemaker Chris is Catholic. He may be the best option out there for a couple of wine-making Jews.