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The Wine Doctor

 Frederick Adolf Paola, Fiction


It was a late afternoon in August in the year of our Lord 1930, in year VIII of the Era Fascista.  Dottore Cotrolaò, just back in his second-floor office after a meal of morzeddu washed down with an exceptional local wine from the Savuto Valley, did a double take when he saw who had entered his office as his first patient of the evening. 

It was Ezio Delli Castelli, the wine doctor of Nocera Terinese. A chemist who had made his living chiefly as an oenologist, a specialist in wine making,  he was also a part-time oenopath, a practitioner of the unique healing art of oenopathy. Patients came to him with ailments of various sorts, and he prescribed a course of treatment with this particular wine or that. The wines he recommended depended, of course, upon the patient's diagnosis and circumstances. While he closely guarded his therapeutic secrets, it was thought that his prescriptions took into account the types of grapes that went into the wine; the composition of the soil from which the grapes had been harvested; how long they had been allowed to ferment before racking; and even the condition of the barrels in which the wine was stored. 

Ezio Delli Castelli was well-versed in Italian wines in general, and had a working knowledge of imported wines as well. Most of his patients, however, were limited for financial reasons to wines produced locally, by the likes of Carmine Mauri, Vittorio Ventura, Leopoldo Rossi, Nicola Mancini, Carmine Nicoli and Annunziato Palarchio, using Calabrian grape varieties such as Aglianico, Gaglioppo, Guarnaccia, Pecorello, Nerello, Sangiovese, Magliocco, Nocera, Trebbiano Toscano, Zibibbo, Greco, Malvasia, and Mantonico. Ezio Delli Castelli did not charge for his oenopathic services, and most patients were quite satisfied with the treatment they received from him, as well as with the results they experienced.

Dottore Cotrolaò knew that many of the townspeople had sought the advice of Ezio Delli Castelli for health problems, either instead of or in addition to more conventional medicine. He supposed it might have something to do with the fact that in those days there were eighteen bettole or cantinas in Nocera Terinese and only one pharmacy. The patients, not wanting to offend Dottore Cotrolaò, didn't mention it to him; nor would Dottore Cotrolaò deign to broach the subject, other than in the form of an occasional sarcastic remark to a patient he had not seen in a while, such as, "Eh, Don Francesco, long time no see. Had any good wine lately?"  

"Buona sera, Don Delli Castelli." While Cotrolaò had heard Ezio Delli Castelli's clients refer to him as dottore, damned if he was going to address him by that honorific title. "Che posso fare per Voi?" he asked. "What can I do for you?" He had used Voi (the polite form of "you" favored by Mussolini) rather than Lei (the equally polite form of "you" discouraged by Mussolini as Iberian) because Cotrolaò knew Ezio Delli Castelli disdained the use of Voi, though he wasn't sure whether this aversion was grounded in politics or linguistics.

Ezio Delli Castelli, a slight man dressed in a worn but freshly pressed brown three-piece suit, looked perplexed and somewhat embarrassed. Fumbling with the hat on his lap, he looked at the taller, heavier man seated behind the dark wood desk before him.

"Dottore, i raggi," he said. "The x-rays."

"Of course," Dottore Cotrolaò answered, slapping himself on the forehead. Now he remembered. How had he forgotten? Ezio Delli Castelli had visited him about a month before with a nagging cough and had reported coughing up small amounts of blood. Dottore Cotrolaò had sent him to the hospital in Catanzaro for a chest x-ray. Searching for the film in the pile on his desk, Dottore Cotrolaò studied Ezio Delli Castelli surreptitiously. Today he was noticeably thinner and appeared mildly dyspneic. 

Locating the envelope in a pile of mail that had been delivered only the day before, Dottore Cotrolaò opened it and held the film up to the light. It showed an extensive mediastinal mass involving the bifurcation of the trachea. Erosions were evident in the ribs.

There was silence in the room, and the two men were unaware of the sounds of life from the world in the street below. The only connection between the two worlds was the aroma of espresso wafting up from the bars down the street.

When Dottore Cotrolaò spoke, it was not without some irritation in his voice. "Don Ezio, tell me something. You practice your healing craft, your..."


"...oenopathy. Then you get sick and you come to me. Why?" Even as he asked his question, compelled as he was by frustration and curiosity, Dottore Cotrolaò regretted both the tone of his voice and his inability to control his own tongue.    

Ezio Delli Castelli smiled. "Dottore, I don't know any other oenopaths, and it would be improper and certainly foolish of me to treat myself." 

Ezio Delli Castelli continued, "That's not to say you were my second choice. Not at all." He shook his head. "I am most grateful for the care you have rendered me, and," he went on, good-naturedly, "if you can heal me I will gladly admit that your healing art is stronger than mine."

Dottore Cotrolaò sadly shook his head no.

In the conversation that followed, he told Ezio Delli Castelli, as best he could, what the near future would likely hold for him, and prescribed morphine for management of his symptoms. It was, alas, a short conversation during which Dottore Cotrolaò, who had delivered his share of bad news to patients in this very room, avoided looking directly at Ezio Delli Castelli. Instead, he monitored his patient's reflection in a mirror on a side wall. At a certain point, Ezio Delli Castelli followed his doctor's gaze to that same mirror, and for a moment they studied each other's reflection. 

When Dottore Cotrolaò finished speaking, Ezio Delli Castelli nodded and put on his hat as he got up to leave. Cotrolaò quickly came out from behind his desk and placed a gentle hand on Delli Castelli's shoulder to stop him. "Just a moment, please," he said.   

Cotrolaò held his hands out before him, palms up, and slowly turned them over, showing them to Ezio Delli Castelli who, holding them in his own, studied them for a moment.

"Arthritis deformans," Ezio Delli Castelli remarked empathetically. Impressed, Cotrolaò raised his eyebrows and nodded.

The two men looked directly at each other.

"There is a small producer near Verbicaro," said Ezio Delli Castelli, taking a fountain pen from his pocket and writing the name of the producer on a piece of paper that had been handed to him by Cotrolaò. "Il bianco, non il rosso," he emphasized. "The white, not the red. No more than 300mL a day. I would try it." 

"I will," Cotrolaò answered.

They shook hands.

"Grazie, dottore," said Ezio Delli Castelli.

"Grazie a Lei, dottore," answered Cotrolaò.