Turning that Frown Upside Down or When a Glass of Wine Stands for the Restorer of Good Health

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A week ago, I had what is euphemistically known as a ‘procedure’ on my back.  A surgeon had to remove (cut out) an ulcerous epithelioma that was about 4 cm in length.  Thank goodness for modern surgery and local anaesthesia and the whole operation took about 45 minutes in all.  Surprisingly, the surgeon informed me that I could even drive that same day and that I should feel little discomfort and probably wouldn’t even require a pain killer.  He had explained that the procedure itself would of course leave consequences on my body, it would be as if someone had punched me, say.  Nice.

Turns out the surgeon was right and that evening, much to the horror of a lot of people who love me, I decided not to turn down a dinner invitation by my cousins in Rome.   I have two sisters who live in England.  One of them was in town and the dinner party was in her honour and I didn’t want to be a party pooper.  I did feel a little out of it, that’s normal after an operation, whatever people say about ‘procedures’ – the body, after all, has taken a knock and is in some kind of shock even as it hurries to heal the wound.  The evening was lovely, as is usual with my Tranquilli cousins, and I drank a normal amount of wine (a little less than I would when I am with these cousins when our intake of wine tends to, ahem, be bountiful so as to speak).  Sleeping wasn’t much fun because of course I could indeed ‘feel’ the wound and the stitches busy at work.  I was fine the next day.  No intake of pain killers.  Some discomfort, normal.  Not a good night’s sleep, again.  Even went to work on the Monday and that’s when I began sneezing.  Not a lot.  Very discrete.  And then it all began.

By Monday evening I was feeling very low, very weak and – horror of horrors – by 8 o’clock I still wasn’t fancying a glass of wine.  My wound started to hurt to the point that I had to take a good dose of ibuprufen, I ate very little, and went to bed without even one glass of wine.  More pain killers the next day, feeling awful, finding no rest whether in bed or on the sofa.  That restless tossing and turning.  No energy to read a book, watch TV.  But, and most of all, No wine!!!!  Feeling slightly better the third day.  No need for pain killers but still weak.  I forced myself to have three measerly sips of wine with my dinner.

Basically I had come down with flu.  Not coronavirus, just plain ol’ fashioned yearly flu. I am normally resistant to flu even though I do succumb to the odd cold and cough.  I am so very lucky that way, I enjoy very good health.   Please note, I wrote ‘enjoy’.

I think we have to enjoy ourselves in order to be healthy, whatever our DNA heritage.  I am very mindful of that old adage about “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy”.  And drinking wine with friends happens to be one way of enjoying life, as far as I’m concerned.  I am a ‘wine o’clock’ person.  At a certain time of day (only in the evenings, I don’t drink at lunch) I hanker after a nice glass of wine.  It makes me happy.  And life is all right.  Of course I know what’s going on – it’s self medication in a way.  It’s illusion – one can and ought to be perfectly happy even without the wine.  It’s the donning of rose tinted glasses and so on and so forth.   It was very interesting for me to read in a book of  Ayurvedic medicine (which I’ve since lost so can’t quote from it, sigh) about how alcohol turns out to be the ‘sweetest’ of all ingredients within their system, sweeter even than sugar or honey.  Interesting, no?  What that boils down to, what it means is that: when one desires a glass of wine on a constant basis, one is really seeking sweetness in life.

Ain’t that the truth !

It would seem that the word ‘acohol’ itself, often attributed to Arabic origins, is actually Hindu!  “Therefore, when one learns that “kohala” (कोहल) is the Sanskrit word for an alcoholic preparation in Ayurvedic medicine, it becomes a near-certainty that the word “alcohol” can be located to the Indian subcontinent and its origins to ancient Hindu texts on medicine and science. In fact, one of the the texts of Susruta (the ancient Indian scientist to whom we owe the word “suture”) — Susruta Samhita — describes the three stages of human and animal behavior after the consumption of alcoholic beverages!” – quoted from a very interesting article by Abhinav Agarwal, I encourage you to read it: https://medium.com/@abhinavagarwal_/alcohol-an-etymology-1407d9de25f5.

Western Doctors can’t make up their minds whether a decent amount of wine/beer/alcohol is good or bad for you in the long run.   Mostly they say it’s bad for you.  I say that in the long run we are going to die anyway so we may as well enjoy ourselves on the way.

That said, I don’t believe in getting drunk and, I have to come out with it, so very many English and American people I come across drink far too much and often on an empty stomach.  That’s where the French and the Italians can show us how to adopt a more moderate (dare I say ‘healthier’) approach.  Wine is to be enjoyed with a meal or at least with some kind of snack.  Oh yes, and by the way, very young Italians do get into binge drinking as a social activity which was never the case a few decades ago.  So this is not about taking sides.  It’s about ‘noticing’.

I just quickly looked up some statistics on alcoholism and Europe has been described as the biggest region for alchol drinking in the world.

What it doesn’t specify is that drinking at mealtimes has always been, yes even since Biblical times, a cultural factor inherent in Europe and the Mediterranean Basin including the very Near East.  The Jewish Passover praises the drinking of wine!  There is a saying in Italian pointing out that a glass of wine is good for the blood.  In contrast, when Italians watch American films or TV programmes where people (mostly men) down great big gulps of whisky as though it were water, they gasp in horror.  “Ma come fanno?”, they say, “How do they do it?”.  I don’t know either.  I had a Scottish stepfather who was extremely fond of his daily dose of Whisky but that man always sipped.

During my early days at the UN in Rome (the Food and Agriculture Organization, acronym FAO), I remember being taken aback at the coffee bar where some men liked to order their coffee ‘corrected’.  A “caffé corretto” in Italian means a coffee with some kind of hard liquor in it.  Grappa or the like.  I just couldn’t fathom how they could desire one first thing in the morning!  The barman wouldn’t even blink, to him it was ‘normal’.  The Chief Medical Officer, my Swedish boss Dr Nordlund, certainly didn’t think it ‘normal’ and made sure that the coffee bar gently declined serving that corrected coffee until after lunch. I think it is probably true that in very cold climates, people do crave sheer shots of alcohol whereas in warmer Mediterranean areas, it’s more about the beer and the wine.  Young children would  be offered a shot of grappa in the mountainous part of Veneto before going to school.  Seriously, I’m not kidding.

Continence is the opposite word of incontinence (lack of self restraint as opposed to pee pee issues).  And it happens to be a word I use for the first time ever, here in this post.  It makes my lips purse.  There is so much moral indignation hanging over it, victorian-style double-standards, virtue bashing.    Ugh.  And yet, it has to be said that there is plenty of continence to be found as regards alcohol consumption in Italy.  Take the word ‘bar’.  In Italy a bar serves both coffee and tea and soft drinks and all the rest of it, as well as wine and spirits.  All day long too.  No restricting alcohol hours.  Drinks of every kind.  And yet I’ve never met a disruptive, ugly drunkard in any of the bars I’ve been to.  (Mind you, I’m not the sort to be in the wrong part of town at the wrong time of night, so maybe I’m being a touch too Pollyanna about this.)  When my poor innocent Italian mother went looking for a ‘bar’ in Hong Kong many many moons ago, with three young children in tow, hankering for a cappuccino, she was more than a little shocked to be shown to a place that was indubitably connected to the local sex industry.  (Looking back now, it makes me wonder what that kind Hong Kong person must have thought of my mother, asking for a ‘bar’ !!! Tut tut, AND with three young children, shocking.)

Non alcoholic apéritif drinks are very popular in Italy and there are plenty that will prefer them to a glass of wine.  All Italian bars serve these drinks called, duh, “analcolici”.  They make them sound like fun and they cater to those who want something ‘spicy’ without the alcohol kick.  They come, it must be said, in lurid colours too.  Crodino is bright orange.  Camparino a neon-bright ruby colour.  And just think about the oh so popular Spritz!  Just exploding with colour (and colourants too, I fear, ahem).  What I am trying to say, I think, is that the overall culture of drinking in Italy is about enjoyment, sharing, bonding and unwinding as opposed to drinking just for the sake of drinking (with the exception of the real alcoholics and the young binge drinkers). I know that I personally drink a lot more wine than my Italian friends, comparatively speaking.  I joke with them when I say that the reason I’m so healthy is that bacteria are scared of the wine I drink (well, it is true that alcohol kills bacteria).

The last thing I want to do is encourage people to drink heavily and badly, disrupting their health and causing unnecessary deaths.  This, what I think is a reliable source and report ( https://euobserver.com/social/145854) reckons that an average of 800 people die from alcohol related issues per day in Europe.  Hmmm.  That amounts to less than one percent of the total European population of 741. 4 million.  (I did the arithmetic and it comes to 0.960).  It may be under one percent but even so it just makes me very sad. Read the quote:

“According to the WHO report, “people of low socio-economic status had a three-fold mortality risk for causes of death fully attributable to alcohol use compared to people with high socioeconomic status”.

Globally about 0.9m injury deaths were related to alcohol, including around 370,000 deaths due to road injuries, 150,000 due to self-harm and around 90,000 due to personal violence.

In Europe, the work of several scholars shows a relevant relation between public violent incidents and alcohol consumption – the proportion was about 50 percent in the UK and ranged from 26 percent to 43 percent in Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands.”

Around 50 percent in the UK !!!

I don’t want to be sanctimonious and boring about it but …  in Italy there is, still, a Culture with a capital C around drinking that needs to be cherished.  The other factor that comes as no surprise is how the low socio-economic status weighs so heavily upon the statistics.   I hate poverty !  It’s the worst disease.  And it doesn’t bring out the best in people as so many films try to make us believe (films probably funded by those monsters, the world’s richest one percent).

Wine and alcohol aren’t the real problem when it comes to these studies, the meaning of life is.  The availability of the means to lead a decent life, from the very start, that’s what’s crucial.   Sigh.  If you haven’t heard of it, do please look up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  It’s still valid.

All I can say is that last night, finally, at around dinner time I was really looking forward to my glass of wine.  I have a runny and red nose, I look awful but I feel that I am finally on the mend.

Cheers!  Here’s raising a glass to your health!

P.S. “Alcohol kills bacteria and preserves food. Culturally, it’s usually a center of social life. It features prominently in certain religions. Biologically, alcohol is a source of energy—10 percent of the enzymes in our liver are devoted to converting alcohol into energy, says McGovern” quoted from https://www.sciencefriday.com/articles/the-origin-of-the-word-alcohol/

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