Mon Docteur, Le Vin (My Doctor, Wine)
By Gaston Derys (translated by Benjamin Ivry)
Yale University Press, 64 pp., $19.95
Originally published in 1936, this instant charmer of a "medical book" explains the myriad benefits of wine, while being splashed by the accompanying watercolors of famed artist Raoul Dufy. With a river of quotes from leading doctors, professors, poets and notables of the day, the book lays claim to wine's far-reaching properties, from the treatment of typhoid to the enhancement of beauty and youth.
Written in all seriousness, Mon Docteur takes us on a journey of health improvement, with wine as the nostrum for all that ails the intrepid Frenchman (and, I assume, people of other nationalities). Today, it reads a bit more humorously. To put it in modern-day context, wine writer Paul Lukacs has written a concise but vivid introduction to the world of French wine in the 1930's. Various quotes are equally preposterous as they are useful.
"Urban and rural people can, and should, drink a liter of unfortified wine per day with meals for their own good, and the prosperity of the land," offers Doctor Landouzy, a Dean of the School of Medicine in Paris.
Marshal Petain, general of the French army in World War I, states: "Supplies of wine were as vital as supplies of ammunition ... it contributed significantly--in its own way--to the victory." No doubt, as wine not only eases the fear of the moment, but can also make brave men braver and allow the meek to carry through.
Dufy's carefree watercolors are bright, engaging "vignettes" of life being lived, with wonderful imagery of society. They accompany each scene being described in a breezy, altogether delicious manner. For example, regarding two women tennis players: "Who would suspect they are mother and daughter? No kidding! You could swear they were sisters. They're women from the Champagne region old boy, who keep young and fit with the juice of the grape."
This book not only touts wine, but also the aura of the good life and sophisticated pleasures. Small doses of wine are encouraged for children, and sound claims are made for wine as a preventative of appendicitis, diabetes and obesity. Not to mention the case of the American teetotaler, cured of his fatigue and "neurotic tendencies" by the wines of Saint Emilion.
One claim might be rephrased today--that of wine as a "radioactive foodstuff," because "grapes store solar radiation and devour mineral elements from the soil." So says Dr. Dougnac. Who can argue? Still, I notice that few first names are given for these experts: It makes for easy denial. "Oh, I never said such a thing. You must mean Dr. Yves Dougnac, not me!"
Especially catching my interest was: "Wine is essential for writers." Professor (no first name) Cambiare "proves" that "most Nobel laureates are scholars or writers from wine drinking countries."
Camp? Yes. Delightful? Indubitably. So trade in that flowered tie, pop. Exchange your umpteenth scarf, mom. "You'll love this book for months to come."