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Archive for November, 2011

In any language

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copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

One of the world’s oldest beverages, beer is mentioned in ancient Sumerian poetry, Egyptian texts, and Norse mythology. First brewed as early as 9500 BC, it remains beloved: after water and tea, it’s the third most popular drink worldwide. Though brewed primarily at home for millennia, these days most beer is commercially produced–a change that isn’t always an improvement.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

Like any devotee, I love to try new beers, especially when traveling. This often creates disappointment, but every now and then lightning strikes and I find a new treasure. On a recent trip to Brazil, I followed my custom and tried some of the local beers–produced by large national breweries–and found them devoid of character and charm.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

A quick internet search turned up a possible antidote, and a handful of us agreed to give it a whirl. The congested streets of Sao Paulo, a massive sprawl that covers over 750 square miles, hold many unlikely gems tucked between suco stands and airless shops crammed with cheap T shirts and bootleg DVDs. One such prize, in the center of Pinheiros, is Cervejaria Nacional–a small brew-pub that offers unpasteurized, preservative-free artisanal brews that are a welcome counter to the undistinguished ‘yellow beers’ found elsewhere.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

The entry level showcases gleaming steel fermentation tanks behind plate-glass, an enticing promise that draws visitors upstairs to the bar or restaurant. In the bar, we read the legends of Brazilian spirits Y-iara, Mula, Kurupira, and Sa’Si, as well as the Domina Weiss (the ‘woman in white’ of folklore the world over), and tried to choose among their namesake brews. Chalkboards on the wall displayed SRM (Standard Reference Measure, a scale of color density), IBU (International Bitterness Units–pretty much just what it sounds like, and a reflection of a beer’s ‘hoppiness’ ), and alcohol content for the current batch of all five house-produced beers on tap.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

The sampler, generous glasses of the whole quintet, sparked lively debate about our favorites, and of course required deeper exploration. Accompanied by spicy linguica, delicate farofa, light and crispy batatas frita da casa, tender cubes of polenta frita, and smoky vegetais grelhados, the weiss beer, IPA, and stout were savored by all as we discussed their flavor, color, and complexity. But for the melodic Portuguese being spoken all around us, and the fragrant remnants of the meal, we could have been in any bar, in any country, where beer is loved and celebrated.

copyright 2011 Peggy Hansen

Beer, it seems, is a lot like love. True believers speak a universal language, understood the world over. Malt or malte, cor or color, bouquet or aroma, it’s all about the mystery, experience, and exploration. What happy combination of soil and sunlight, hops and yeast, malt and time, shines in your glass like jewels bright on velvet, and how will it compare to others that have gone before? You never know until you taste, and that anticipation is a sweet intoxicant….near as sweet, and timeless, as the beer itself.

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Nocturne

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A few months ago, I discovered something amazing. I’d seen it thousands of times before, but never really paid attention–it was just there, a background as I hurried from point A to point B, a wordless blanket shrouding my house as I slept, an invisible backdrop to an outdoor concert or a rooftop drink with friends.

What is this wonder, so unquestioned yet so fascinating? It’s nothing fancy or exotic, and you don’t have to go far to find it. It’s no more or less than night itself—implicit, deep, and intricate. Perhaps you’re wondering what I’m talking about–we all know what night is, right? What’s the big deal?

Night isn’t just the absence of day, though it certainly is that. Night can be a time of freedom as we leave our jobs, commutes, and daytime stress behind. Other things fall away with the sun’s light too–colors are less bright, shadows become less sharply defined, and the busy noise of day fades quickly as the moon ascends the arc of heaven. In their place, night brings treasures of its own: softer and more subtle colors, richer and more complex shadows, and the music of its many creatures, varied and evocative.

Next full moon, go outside, stand still, and just be in the night for 10 or 20 minutes with nowhere to go and nothing to do but pay attention. No doubt you’ll notice something new. At first, it may be your own breathing, or the beating of your heart, sounds the busy press of daytime overrides. After a few minutes, perhaps you’ll be struck by the way the air moves and breathes, the way the stars and planets track overhead, or the way the moon’s glow transmutes ordinary into extra-ordinary. Make the night itself your sole intention, for a minute or an hour, and who knows what you’ll discover?

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Medicine is full of shorthand, abbreviations and acronyms used to speed the conversation along and get to the important stuff—what’s really going on, and what should be done about it? Some of these shortcuts are eponyms, in which a condition bears the name of the scientist or doctor who first described it. Those have never done much for me, since they aren’t especially evocative and demand a lot of memorization. Others are more colorful, including many acronyms that fly freely in the chart and on morning rounds: SOB, a classic, nominally means ‘shortness of breath,’ but could be taken for, well, something else. Some are made-up words that seem somehow to fit the situation perfectly. My favorite in this category is FOOSH, ‘fall onto outstretched hand,’ which evokes the act of injury and ensuing fracture to a T. You can hear the slip, the frantic attempt to break the fall, and the crunch of cracking bone, all in those five letters. FOOSH indeed.

When it comes to mishap and mayhem, though, the slang we toss about most frequently is the everyday word versus. It’s used to describe all manner of unwanted confrontations and collisions—between man and beast, man and motor vehicle, man and machine, man and anything under the sun you can conjure: I assure you it’s been done. “Finger versus saw” is infinitely faster, and gets the point across more vividly, than “finger cut by saw in accident” ever could. Ditto “bike versus SUV”, “fist versus wall”, or ” leg versus tiger shark.”

Slang and shortcuts abound in every sphere of work, and they do make things more streamlined. Don’t be fooled, though, by their seeming brisk impersonality—in medicine we are always mindful that behind the shortcut there’s a person. It isn’t ultimately them versus anyone or anything—it’s us and them, working together to do what can be done.

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