Our lady of the Rioja
When saints canít protect you, bring tannins
By Tim Protzman†firstname.lastname@example.org
If this werenít so strange, it probably wouldnít have happened to me, because I have a knack for taking the road less traveled right to the land of the strange.
It started with pizza. Innocent pizza.
We visited my daughter at college and took her out to dinner at a pizza place. Itís more than 70 years old and is painted with Depression-era murals that need a good cleaning. These arenít the regular pizza house murals. There were no scenes of Pompeii, Coliseum, the Acropolis or the Leaning Tower of Pisa. These were murals of gauchos, those Argentinean cattle wranglers, the cowboys of the pampas. The menu explained that the original owner had spent her childhood in Argentina, which has quite a large population of Italian ancestry. After she married, they emigrated to America and opened a pizza shop. The mural immortalized her childhood homeland and its gauchos. The menu also explained that in the corner above the cash register is a depiction of Saint Anthony the Abbot, the patron saint of Naples, Italy and pizza makers.
Iíve always had the greatest respect for people of faith. People whose lives are dedicated to helping others. People whoíve suffered and died for their faith. People to whom others look for their intercessional powers. But my daughter had her laptop with her so we fired it up and went to the Catholic Forum online, which has an extensive listing of saints and their patronages.
This turned up conflicting information. Naples has many patron saints, including Saint Gennaro, who has his own street festival in Little Italy on the Lower East Side. Heís also known as St. Januarius, who was martyred for his faith in 305 AD.
Saint Anthony the Abbott, in addition to being one of the patron saints of Naples, is also the patron saint against†pestilence and, according to the Web site, the patron saint of amputees, animals, basket makers, basket weavers, brush makers, Burgio in Sicily, butchers, Canas in Brazil, cemetery workers, domestic animals, eczema, epilepsy, epileptics, ergotism, erysipelas, gravediggers, graveyards, hermits, hogs, hospitallers, monks, Mook in Netherlands, pigs, relief from pestilence, St. Anthonyís fire, skin diseases, skin rashes, swine and swinherds.
This laundry list of patronage caused me to laugh out loud. Not at the saint himself or his piety or the Catholic religion, but at the juxtaposition of brush-making and eczema, swine and erysipelas (a medical term for red skin).
As soon as my blasphemous laughter stopped I was severely wounded on the roof of my mouth by an extra sharp pizza crust I was eating. It bled so much that it covered my lips and my ex-wife accused me of getting into her lipstick again. (It was the ďagainĒ part that turned the most heads in the nearly packed pizza house.)
But she did have a point. I left the table and smoked a cigarette outside, away from the stern gaze of St. Anthony the Abbott, who Iíll never sass or tease or in any way disrespect again.
It took 90 minutes, a styptic pencil, an application of liquid band-aids and a cup of tea to stanch the blood flow. The tannins in the tea have a natural clotting effect. There is no patron of tea, but Saint Rene Goupil, the patron saint of anesthesiologists, used a pine needle tea to cure scurvy.
The next day I paid some bills. Being cheap I pay the ones I canít pay online or over the phone at a dry cleanerís thatís set up for Western Union and bill-paying. This way I donít need a stamp. I was cranky. I hadnít eaten all day. I was in line and the roof of my mouth hurt.
This dry cleanerís smells of naphthalene but has the most amazing geraniums in the window year-round. It also has a gumball machine. And a machine that dispenses jujubes and M&Mís. Today it had a new addition. The fake spiders, rings and little green army men with parachutes in those round plastic display balls were gone. In their place were plastic saints! In those round plastic display balls. The Blessed Mother, Saint Francis, Saint Christopher and Saint Juan Diego, an Aztec who converted to Christianity and was canonized in 2002.
I asked the lady who takes my bills about the saints. But she was Lutheran and didnít know. She did say they were selling quicker than the fake snakes and spiders ever did. This gave me hope. Spirituality was alive and well. People actually did care about more than just their comforts. It might have been a coincidence or a fluke, but I saw the sign. I broke a five and bought three saints and took them back to the office and put them on a prominent shelf.
Wine is also a spiritual process. Not drinking it, but the belief that every year the vines will blossom. The berries will come and the harvest will be good. Every vintner must have that faith. And itís no surprise that vineyards, wine makers, wine merchants, vineyard worker and vinegar makers have eight different saints watching over them. Hereís this weekís wine.
Geyser Peak 2005 Sauvignon Blanc ($8.99) Light and a touch watery, with subtle tannins and hints of pineapple, lemon and gooseberry. Patron saint is St. Lawrence.
2005 Scala Dei Negre ($12.49) From Priorat, Spain, this wine is tannic and heavy like purple velvet. Pray to St. Goar that this one will age better and time will tame these prodigal Grenache grapes.
1998 Montecillo Gran Reserve Rioja ($17.99) One of the better reds Iíve tasted in a while. All tempranillo grapes and favored by St. Vincent of Saragossa, native of that region. So nice, Iím getting another bottle!
2003 Chateau Tour de Pressac Saint-Emilion Grand Cru ($26.39) From the very hot summer of 2003. This one may age better but itís a little austere now. St. Walter of Pontnoise watches over this one.