MedHum Monday: Compassion against Fear

DailyDose_PosterI attended an Episcopal service this past Sunday (Palm Sunday). My rector spent much of the message talking about things both crucial and–at first glance–incidental to the season’s readings. She talked about racism. And hatred. She spoke about police shootings and bullies and Tamir Rice. And mostly, she described how our compassion dries up in the face of fear. It’s worth revisiting, especially here, in my community and others like it, where segregation and division build frightening walls between “us” and “them.” And it’s worth revisiting now, in this election cycle, when division makes headlines, spits venom, and influences votes.

The US Department of Health still identifies Cuyahoga County as critically under-served. Statistically, that under-served population is made up of minority communities rendered invisible by segregated urban centers—what the Cleveland Foundation’s Greater University Circle Initiative (GUCI) calls the “invisible divide.” In an article by Alexander Kent & Thomas C. Frohlich earlier this year, Cleveland ranked as the number one more segregated urban area, with an equal disparity of income rates [1].

Click to see the full image in Huffington Post.

You need only look at the image to note the significance of that division. At the same time, this small minority community mobilized to swing a vote away from County Prosecutor McGinty (whom many faulted in the Tamir Rice case), sweeping these precincts for challenger O’Malley. Again, the picture tells the story.

Click to see the full image at

As Rich Exner’s article explains, O’Malley was supported by U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, a Warrensville Heights Democrat “who represents parts of Cleveland and eastern suburbs,” and “by prominent members of Cleveland clergy” who believe McGinty mishandled the prosecution of police officers in the death of 12-year-old Rice [2].


What does this mean? I won’t use this example of voter mobilization to declare ‘good things come out of tragedy,’ though some may. And while it proves, on one hand, that minority populations can influence outcomes, it also continues to reinforce that same old racial divide (O’Malley won all 282 precincts estimated to have a majority black voting-age population, while incumbent Timothy J. McGinty still won in majority white areas [2]). Efforts have redoubled to close these health-race-income gaps, such as the Greater University Circle Initiative, which aims to build better connections between under-served communities and institutions. Additionally, Tom O’Brien runs a project called Neighborhood Connections, with monthly “Neighbor Up” meetings in the circle. But one of the principle themes has been a lingering sense among at-risk neighborhoods that even now, institutions have not done all they could to reach out. How we build trust in these communities, and how we aid in fostering dialog and growth, continues to be a major obstacle… for all of us.

How do we foster compassion and trust? How do we drive out fear? How can we change the fact that, in this urban center and among leading cultural and medical institutions, we still have the most segregated city, with the greatest disparities of income and health (and one of the highest infant mortality rates)? It’s a medical humanities question because it is a human question; our health and well-being depends on it, on those willing to stand up in the face of wrong, or to stand in the gap and help to bridge it. We cannot do that in fear–we cannot do that and fear.

The rector’s Palm Sunday message reminded me that the world surrounding a certain small band of Galileans likewise surged with racial divide, mistrust, tension, and threat from their own authorities and ‘peace keepers.’ And it reminded me, too, of our personal responsibilities. She ended with a call to action: when you feel tempted to shout “someone ought to do something,” be the someone and do the something. As historians, and health professionals, as sociologists and anthropologists, as students and teachers, as employees and business leaders, as neighbors, as friends–as human beings: let us stand against division. Let us unite in compassion and drive out fear.

Let us tear down walls, instead of building them.


  1. Alexander Kent & Thomas C. Frohlich 24/7 Wall St. The 9 Most Segregated Cities In America. Huffington Post. Aug, 27, 2015.
  2.  Rich Exner. Vote in black communities sweeps Michael O’Malley to victory over Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy McGinty. March 17, 2016.




L’Albatros: A Review of Cleveland’s Finest Braisserie

The ill-fated Ancient Mariner has, perhaps, done as much for albatross fame as any literary work–and not entirely to the noble bird’s benefit. Allow me to correct any misprision and assure the reader that the rare creature has seen a turn of great fortune.

By misprision, I am intentionally referencing the Old French word, in its alliterative English sense–thus, both misunderstanding and that which ought not be done… after all, this is a review of all things delectably French at Cleveland’s L’Albatros restaurant, and it ought not be missed. This very fine establishment, located near Case Western Reserve University on 11401 Bellflower Road, was once my primary locale for mid-day repast (I hesitate to call it “lunch” when it lasts for 2 palate-pleasing hours; it is more of an experience than a meal).

Qualifying more specifically as fusion cuisine, L’Albatros is Neo-French, the work of Zachary Bruell (also of Z and Table 45). Both master chef and restaurateur, Bruell has created a truly excellent menu–and an exciting dining destination. The atmosphere is helped by the unusual construction of the building (which had been several restaurants previously, and looks much like a series of brick constructions round a courtyard). The exposed brick, large fireplace and glass walls on the garden side promote an interesting fusion of in and out, in any season.

I was visiting in Cleveland this fourth of July weekend, and I needed to meet with colleagues at Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry (Editor in Chief, Woody Gaines and Assistant Managing Editor, Stephanie McClure). Naturalmente, we went to L’Albatros–fortification for editorial decision-making.

To begin, the welcome is always expansive. Hostess Frances Herskovitz  greets us with warmth (and let me add that she has most excellent taste in accessories, always wearing an artisan-created necklace or broach). We then took our table on the patio, among tasteful plantings and bright umbrellas. Dr. Gaines began the meeting (which was a celebratory one, September’s issue being complete) with Cremant d’Alsace: crisp citrus notes, hints of granny smith apple and a subtle-but-not-too-dry finish. Excellent wine. It was paired with crusty, delicately flavored bread and oil. This alone is reason enough to attend a lunch meeting–but of course, there are courses!

I began with my favorite: the restaurant serves an arugula and radicchio salad, always fresh and herbal, red-green brightness in presentation. It is mixed with shaved Parmesan and a light mixture of lemon and oil, a creamy but not overpowering accompaniment that allows the peppery nature of the greens to come through.

Though technically a starter, I cannot pass the Foie Gras Mousseline. A superb and creamy pate of chicken and goose, delicate hint of wine, served with caper berries, pickled onion, cornichon. The feel on the palate is as important as the taste, and both are most delightful. I feel, however, that I should mention the roasted cod with spatzle and aioli enjoyed by my EIC; in his estimation, the crispy cod and noodle dish is magical. The Assistant ME also enjoyed fish–an arugula salad with salmon. We believe in sharing, and it was all incredible.

It might seem customary, at this juncture, to wax poetic about the dessert options at L’Albatros. They are, I assure you, well worth it. However, what preceded the dessert was so exquisite, so fine, so pleasing to the heart and soul of the gourmand, that it deserves a section of its own.

What I speak of, friends, is cheese.

Fromages: reflections of the human soul
There will be those who think I am perhaps being a bit over-dramatic in my cheese love. Allow me to correct the blasphemer! Those who frown on cheese are perhaps like those who frown on love: they have yet to taste from the fountain–they haven’t met “the one,” so to speak. Give them half an hour with Brandon Chrostowski, general manager of L’Albatros, and they will be forever changed. Brandon worked in Paris at Lucas Carton, one of the few Michelan 3-star restaurants; he was also Chef de Partie at Le Cirque in New York and saucier at Picholine before moving on to more management-oriented roles. And Brandon knows his fromage.

After our main courses and a finishing off of the lovely Cremant d’Alsace, we were kindly visited by Brandon who delivered not only lively conversation but an extraordinary cheese plate. Accompanied, each, by unusual history, these carefully crafted specimens absorbed our attention for another forty-five minutes.

1. Tomme Crayeuse is a cave-aged cheese; it is double aged, really, in caves of differing temperature. A goat cheese, it was fruity but with a musk-like smokey edge–the soft chalk-white interior mildly sweet.

2. Winnemere (VT) is a raw-milk farmstead cheese. Brandon told us a little about the gentlemen who produce it there, in Vermont. I found it soft and creamy, near melting in the center, spoonable and lovely. I cannot, however, do better than the review on farmstead inc., the link to which I have provided. They call it the sexiest of cheeses. I believe they may be right.

3. Ekiola Ardi Gasna Fermier –is hard to say five times fast. I have seen it described as “ardigasna” Fermier, and this type of cheese is generally made from raw sheep’s milk somewhere in the Pyrenees. They milk the sheep, and they make the cheese, right there on site–meaning if you want it, you must go get it. This makes it a rare delicacy and it was, I believe, our most favorite of the plate. Meaty–as though it could be a meal in itself; robust, round on the tongue, subtle with a satisfying and mouth-watering finish.

4. Robiola di Capra in Foglie di Castagna is an artisan goats’ milk cheese. Like a good scotch, it catches you in the back of the throat, but is smooth nonetheless. It is more dense than chevre, and it served wrapped in a chestnut leaf. Mellow and earthy, it has a strong but not over-powering character.

5. Parmesan is obviously a more well known variety of cheese, but any cook can tell you there are worlds of difference between types of Parmesan. The first rule is that, if it comes in a shiny green can and needs no refrigeration, it isn’t really food. The Parmesan we sampled was nutty, robust–the flavor remained on the tongue, a whole mouth experience. That is fine cheese.

6. Stichelton might temporarily through you for a loop–at least by name. But fear not; this is the straight man of any cheese plate, the sturdy traditional Bleu Cheese, offering its subtle color and aroma to the rounding out of our course. Why not call it Stilton, then? Well, Stilton is a protected name… and this is a raw milk cheese, pleasant and bright. As with other raw milk products, you can’t have your cheese-cake and eat it too. Regulations win the day, and we win the cheese by changing its name. (In other words, if you don’t pasteurize the cheese, you cannot call it Stilton).

This fine plate was finished with fig paste and bread, and after such marvelous mastication, we didn’t have an appetite left for the sweeter desserts. We finished, therefore, with berries and coffee–and so ended our three hour repast. Ah, who wouldn’t want to meet for lunch with such friends and such table fare? Happy are we when we can join business and pleasure–and should your business take you near Case Western (or Cleveland Clinic, or University Hospital), please do come in for lunch. Alternatively, should your pleasure-seeking entice you to the theatre district or to one of the other cultural events in Cleveland, think of stopping in for a fine dining experience. It is well worth it!