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Podcast Summary:

“Anyway, I’ll Drink to That” is a Boozn Sam’s production, exploring the fun, quirky, and fascinating tales of drinks (The Monkey Gland in this episode) that define culture, history and the world. Every drink has a story to tell, and I’m going to tell it…as true as I can. Hosted by Sam, from Boozn Sam’s. Saddle up with a good cocktail and give me a few minutes of your time for a mystery surrounding a drink that changed the world.

Episode 12 Details:

When Serge was slicing and snipping and saving, or scamming, rich millionaires in France, he was also laying the groundwork to have a drink named after him. This episode is an inappropriate, but hilarious look at science gone wrong.

Transcript of Podcast:

*This is the entire podcast episode in written form. Do not read if you want the audio version to be spoiled.

The gnarled, arthritic hands of Nicolas tapped on the cracked wooden table, as he stared at the things spread across the table in front of him. Beakers, some empty, and others filled with wide ranging liquids were scattered everywhere. 

A scale was buried among them with a pile of powder carefully sprinkled on top of one side, and balanced on the other platform by tiny, chunks of crude shaped iron. 

He let out a groan as he leaned back into his chair, which strained and creaked beneath him. Dusk was approaching fast but he didn’t notice until now. He was buzzing with excitement at the drink boiling and melding in front of him. 

Just a little longer, he thought. Or, at least he hoped it was only a little longer. He’d been at it for years now and time was no longer on his side. Nicolas ran a hand through his curly beard, which flowed down to the top of his sternum and pursed his lips, as he thought about the long road he’d taken to get here.

As was common during this time, he’d gone to the world itself to discover the universe’s secrets, a secret that held the key to the drink mulling before him now. Nicolas was a well read man, but there are some things even books can’t teach you. After all, if this secret had been well known, surely he would have been able to create this drink long before. 

On a hunch and a hope, Nicolas, therefore, took off from his home and sought out the spiritual growth of a great pilgrimage. A pilgrimage that is still famous today in Northwestern Spain. Nicolas hoped that the roads would release their secrets and give him the one thing he, and many others like him, had been seeking for so many years.

Legend has it that the remains of St. James were carried by boat from Jerusalem to Northern Spain, where they came to rest at Santiago De Compostela. The way of St. James, one of the most famous and important spiritual pilgrimages during these medieval times, and still today, starts at one’s own house and ends at the resting place of St. James. 

Nicolas took a moment to look back at this concoction on the wooden table. Should he add heat? Maybe that would speed up the process. His hand instinctively shot out to the burner, then stopped. He let it fall with a clatter back to the table. No, he thought. Better to let nature take its course.

Just as it had when he first discovered the key to all of this on the Camino De Santiago pilgrimage. Trust the process. He thought. And inhaled deep, then exhaled slow. 

The problem was two fold. First, he didn’t know if he was doing the right thing, on account of the fact that no standard method of creation existed for what he was trying to accomplish. That was due in large part to the existence of more stories than proof. 

Second, was the problem of time, which was against him and ticking away slowly, second by second, as age continued to sink deeper into his soul and pull him more strongly to that place beyond. 

So, faced with the problems of experimentation and time, he trusted that, given enough of the second problem, the first problem would present a solution. The real test would be if his stone, once pulled from the remaining mercury, could turn copper into gold. 

If that happened, well, then the rest would be history, and his constant craving for youth and vigor would find satisfaction in the drink itself, which his stone could create, and turn back the irreversible forward march of time and age, which turned his hands gnarled and arthritic. 

Nicolas Flamel, though, had faith. And a secret. The philosopher’s stone, which could turn any metal to gold and also create an elixir…the most important elixir…the elixir of life.

His secret would vanish when he vanished and, centuries later another man would come alone with a similar ambition and discover that secret once more, starting from scratch and reaching the same conclusion, but in a different way, that Nicolas reached.

Serge did not find the secret from a Spanish pilgrimage, but rather by immigrating from Russia to France, and studying diligently under a Nobel prize winning surgeon, biologist and geneticist. 

However, his conclusions were different than the ones Nicolas reached in the age old quest to defy aging and prove that humans could outsmart their creator and become godlike in their immortality. 

Many during this time also held the intense greed for eternal life that Nicolas held. It was the 1920’s and life was good. An unparalleled level of wealth and optimism grabbed life by the metaphorical balls and yanked…which was ironic considering the secret that Serge had discovered.

His path to that secret was a long one, and filled with much experimentation. He took a hint from another well known genius by the name of Charles, who in 1889, injected himself with a mixture of ground up dog and guinea pig….well, you know… kahones. Marbles. Peas in the pod, as they say. 

But, Charles’ experiment was unsuccessful and he did not find the an anti-aging elixir like Nicolas found in his philosopher’s stone. 

Serge learned from Charles’ mistakes and realized there was a fatal flaw, a flaw that would not stop death cold in its tracks. And a flaw, that he, the genius he was, could correct. So, he went to work. 

He reasoned that gland transplants would be more effective than injections into the blood stream. He started by taking thyroid glands from chimpanzees into humans with thyroid issues. Met with success in that endeavor, he worked his way up to….grander ambitions.

The goal of life extension remained an ever present ambition for Serge, and one he chased after with determination and a pair of gonads…in his hand.

Quite literally.

The gonads of executed criminals.

Which he transplanted into the aging sacks of millionaires desperate to enjoy their money for longer and reverse the effects of aging. 

Believe it or not, demand for this procedure outpaced his supply, and, without more executed criminals to slice the nads off of, he turned to a fellow cousin of the human. The chimpanzee.

Convinced he was on to something, or driven by the money he got from all the surgeries he performed, Serge doubled down on his research and, over the span of nine years, performed over 500 surgeries in which he transplanted the yahoos of younger goats and sheep into the bags of older goats and sheep.

His research, from all this heavy lifting, revealed, he observed, that the older animals once again regained their youthful vigor when upgraded with an…ummm… younger package. 

Of course from there the rest was easy to deduct. Anyone could have jumped to the same conclusion. Even you. It was a conclusion that unlocked the secret to anti-aging, a secret first discovered by Nicolas Flamel in medieval times, only this time it was done with a set of nuts and not a philosopher’s stone and the elixir of life. 

The secret is simple and I’ll share it with you now, so listen close if you want to live forever.

Take a slice, a thin slice, of a monkey testicle, and implant it inside your bag. A similar procedure can be done for females too, with the respective ovaries of each creature- the monkey and the human.

From there, let the amazing wonder that is the human body go to work, grafting itself to the monkey gland and infusing the youthful, enriching health benefits directly into your body.

Sounds fantastical, doesn’t it? 

The stuff of fairy tales, or horror films where humans are sewn together with animal parts.

But, it’s not. 

Serge was actually part of a whole line of science devoted to such practices. 

It’s called xenotransplantation.

Taking something foreign – xeno is the latin word for foreign

And transplant it into the human body.

It was such a popular science in the 1920s that Serge hit a gold mine… I mean… helped over 500 old men within the span of a decade, in France, reverse the effects of aging 

By putting a tiny slice of a gland into their bodies.

A panel of over 700 leading surgeons at the time from around the world, at the 1923 International Congress of Surgeons in London, England, applauded his work for the rejuvenation of old men.

These gland surgeries were the talk of all high society get togethers throughout France and Europe during this time period, and people whispered, as Nicolas Flamel had centuries prior, of the elixir of life. 

The world was a flutter with the unverifiable, but heavily documented, scientific and medical breakthrough Serge made. 

At this point, I’m almost at a loss of words. Let’s summarize what’s occurred so far.

An alchemist during medieval times believed that by combing liquid mercury with other ingredients a philosopher’s stone could be created to produce an elixir that would grant immortality and create gold. 

He died, although he claimed he was immortal.

Then, centuries later, a Russian surgeon ended up in France grafting slices of chimp’s coconuts into human coconuts so those rich, aging humans could live longer. 

Here’s what my takeaways are, but feel free to make your own judgements.

  1. The scientific and academic community never knows as much as they think they do. They are not infallible and don’t trust everything they say. For, at one point 700 of the top surgeons from around the world were willing to say that a chimp’s nut can make you live longer.
  2. People will seek out, spend money on, and believe, the things they think will make them live longer. We’ve got such a fear of aging and death, and an uncheck hubris for our ability to manipulate the world that we actually believe we’re capable of changing the laws of the universe. 
  3. Or, we’ll do almost anything when we’re afraid and all logic, all civility goes out the window.

Now, I’m well aware I’m coming at this from a position of hindsight. But, it’s made me wonder what things today, we accept as truth and right that, in a hundred years, will be looked on with scorn and mockery. 

What medical breakthroughs will crumble in the face of future knowledge?

What deeply held beliefs and pursuits will fade into nothing, or be marked as not worth the time?

And, most important, because they have a tendency to always drive human action, what fears will spur us on in the next hundred years?

It’s some heavy tough questions and a tough nut to crack. 

But, in the meantime we can at least look with humor at the mistakes we’ve made and not judge ourselves too harshly for the fragility of humanity.

That’s why, a drink, featuring equal parts gin and orange juice, a tblsp of absinthe, and a tblsp of grenadine, was aptly named…

The Monkey Gland

And created in the 1920’s in a London bar

When Serge Voronoff was slicing and snipping and saving, or scamming, rich millionaires in France

The Monkey Gland is the perfect drink to remind us that we’ve still got a bit to go as humans, 

But you might as well enjoy the ride

Because, at least in the near future, there’s no way to extend it and it’s the only one we’ve got.

Anyway….I’ll drink to that.