“We lunched upstairs at Botín´s. It is one of the best restaurants in the world. We had roast young suckling pig and drank rioja alta. Brett did not eat much. She never ate much. I ate a very big meal and drank three bottles of rioja alta.” The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
EULAR 2017 was quite an affair. Madrid was resplendent and boy was it hot. The temperature tipped 100°F daily and this magnificent old city of stone heated up like a pizza oven, still baking at 11PM. Incidentally, 11PM seemed to also be when most of the hip crowd was just heading out for dinner. The meeting itself was excellent, with over 14,000 attendees, solid science, and a growing sense of itself as a world-class meeting. I need not remind you that, in addition to these facts, EULAR is always in one of the great cities of the world and, despite the agitation and anxiety of international travel, it is an experience that is worth the time and money.
Now, all of you who read my blogs know I am dedicated practitioner of work-life balance, and you cannot beat the opportunity EULAR provides for achieving this. Furthermore, if you are lucky enough to go to one these meetings and don’t take advantage to explore and enjoy, you are lesser for exercising bad judgement.
Have no fear, for if you missed it this year, read on as I share an unbelievable experience. Among the blur of Spanish wines, tapas and cerveza, one night topped the cake this year: our group outing to the restaurant Botin.
Many restaurants brag about various things, including their Michelin stars, their wine list, and their reviews, but Botin merely tells you it is the oldest restaurant in the world! That’s a pretty great start and no doubt serves to remind you there is a reason that this place, situated in the medieval Austrias area of Madrid and founded by the Frenchman Jean Botín in 1725, is still there. I might add that there were apparently very few OSHA guidelines then as I nearly killed myself on the stairs, but that only added to the experience!
The crowd was similar to last year. In attendance were Drs. Calabrese (N.B. my daughter Cassie, who completes her rheumatology training this week and is fortunate to have been gifted an inverted view of reality, having been to at least six EULARs including four as a tourist and now two as a presenter… note: I didn’t go to EULR until I was about 45: what’s up with that?); Kevin Winthrop, the token ID wine maker cum rheumatologist; and Eamonn Molloy, a vasculitis expert from Dublin and always up for a party. This year, being in Spain, we were treated to the company of Jose (Pepe) Hernandez from Barcelona who also knows how to enjoy himself and was assigned as the designated orderer - we merely told him to tell the waiter to bring us their best!
The best at Botin, in their opinion as well as Earnest Hemingway's (Jake Barnes in the Sun Also Rises), is the baby pig. It is is beautiful and redolent of life lived vividly and I really mean this in the truest sense. I was introduced to this construct by the late author Jim Harrison in his recent posthumouslly published book, A Really Big Lunch: Meditations on Food and Life from the Roving Gourmand (please do yourself a favor and read this – it’s deliriously wonderful). We didn’t ask for special preparations or give food restrictions (no offense to any reader who has them, but I am talking in terms of pickiness, not health or religious issues) or argue or even talk about what to eat, we merely said bring us your best.
When the food was presented, we were struck dumb as we ogled the presentation. Soon thereafter, as I picked through the pig with my hands (of course) and bit into that crunchy skin, I had thoughts of how many people must have had this experience right there, upstairs at Botin, during good times, bad times and all in between. This experience of food, wine and comradely that we were sharing can be so powerful, allowing perhaps for a moment to suspend politics, personnel stress and, at the same time, increase our humanity. It certainly did that night!
I can’t finish this column without writing of at least one wine we drank that night that was not great...it was perfect. It was a 2008 Amaren Riserva Rioja 60. While I drank a lot of Spanish wines that week and did not have a bad one, this wine, that place, that moment was seamless. It was powerful, and almost hot with exploding fruit but balanced by acid and, over time, somewhat elegant. It demanded vivid food to enjoy it and we were the people to drink it in just that fashion. As I write this, I can almost taste this wine now as it is etched in my mind. I really believe this as apparently so does Professor Shepherd who, in his 2016 book, Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine, tells us that the taste of wine is really a construct of our imagination (more or less). If so, it’s really, really cool.
So, these are my notes from the field this EULAR gathering and all I can say is: bring on Amsterdam (with San Diego in between).
Please write me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your food and wine experiences!