marți, 30 septembrie 2014

Wine: A Cultural History

Having a little more time after finishing my dissertation studies I decided to start cultivating my love of wine and what better way to start than reading about its history? And what a history wine has! It starts sometime between 8500 BC at the earliest and 4000 BC at the latest (p.11). The book is perfect for afternoon readings, especially if you have a glass of nice wine to accompany it.

John Varriano carefully selects historical sources to carry you through the journey of wine making and consumption, from ancient times to modern day times. It is beautifully illustrated with works of art: sculpture, pottery, paintings and lithographs, all thoughtfully inserted to make the reading more enjoyable. It made me aware of the importance of wine in all rituals and aspects of life, in ancient Greece, where the drank wine mixed with water, than in ancient Rome, where members of high class used to feast on wine taking it as a reminder of momento mori and carpe diem, whilst also encouraging the people to drink it for medicinal purposes. Often time throughout the history wine was used to cure various ailments both topically and internally.

Galen’s account of wine usage for treating wounds is one of the most vast and attentively constructed medical books of those times, widely used until late 17th century, describes mixes of herbs with wine and even usage of wine as a disinfectant for open wounds. It really made me think twice about what natural medicine can do in order to cure diseases, especially those linked to mineral deficiencies.

The story of wine and how it became widely enjoyed by all people also describes the first wine with controlled denomination, Château Haut-Brion – founded by Jean de Pontac- 1550, to be named by the region where it was made. Wine continued to be enjoyed by members of high class, royalties and popes (Châteauneuf “Vin du Pape” – 1316-1334) (p. 103). The pleasure and rituals associated with wine are depicted beautifully in art. Works of art: painting of Michellangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Bellini and Titian, Rubens, Poussins, Vermeer, and sculptures and lithographs embroider the story and make you wish you could see them all first hand.

Modern time abounds with pictures, descriptions and studies all hailing the benefits of moderate wine consumption. Starting with wine’s effect as a means of aiding people suffering from minor social inhibition and continuing with recent studies suggesting that by drinking wine we attain longevity and better health, the list is vast. It makes you wonder why with every meal you don’t appreciate the curative and pleasurable effects of moderate wine consumption. It definitely makes me want to know more about wine and cultivate my taste so I can enjoy both the health benefits and also the small pleasures of life.  

luni, 15 septembrie 2014

Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

Since ancient times the nature and behaviour of people taking psychic altering drugs has been surrounded by a lot of preconceptions. When reading Tomas de Quincey’s book you are transported into the 19th century English society and discover the stereotypes and preconceptions regarding drug use.  de Quincey starts in a more descriptive and apologetic note just to make sure that he appeals to his readers. At first this style seems a little too contrived in 21st century biographic writing, but one must keep in mind that when this book appeared it stirred the high circles of society and created a new awareness regarding the use of opium.

It seems a courageous move to describe and expose publicly a private behaviour, such as drug usage. Whether the reason was to make the public aware of this or simply the book emerged as a result of de Quincey’s belief that preconceptions must be changed is a matter of historical hypothesising. Needless to say, you come into first contact with the exhilaration of the drugs effect but also with the negative effects that it can have on the consumer and his family.

I enjoyed reading this book simply because it was a way to gain access into a world of sealed doors and social stigma. I applaud his heroic act of describing his behaviour and by doing so exposing himself to public criticism. A lot has changed since that time, but the stigma surrounding the drug consumption still remains. Even the author warns against opium usage and argues that better medical care or better living conditions should be a necessary condition for all those who wish not to take the drug or be tempted by other psychedelic drugs. At one point de Quincey presents his hypothesis stating that opium might alleviate the symptoms of Consumptions or other grave medical condition that affected British Society at that time, but tones down his tone to include a cautionary message that the drugs early positive effects should not be abused and care must be taken when measuring the dosage. Another noteworthy hypothesis is that a life that includes regular exercise and a balanced diet could provide more positive effects on overall health rather than subsiding to drug use.

Taken together the messages that de Quincey sends to his readers are worthy of consideration and admirable, especially when thinking that this is the first biographic book to expose opium usage.