Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Monkey Glands

I asked Dani if she wanted a drink. She said she'd like a sloe gin with orange juice in. We weren't sure what such a drink might be called, so we looked it up on a cocktail website and found that it's a Sloe Screw. The Sloe Screw was listed alongside its variants: the Sloe Comfortable Screw, the Sloe Comfortable Screw against the Wall, the Sloe Comfortable Mexican Screw against the Wall, the Sloe Comfortable Screw between the Sheets and the Sloe Comfortable Fuzzy Screw against the Wall.

Underneath, there was a link to 'If you liked this cocktail, try these...' with a list of drinks that included one called a Monkey Gland. We couldn't resist clicking on this to find out what it was. We stumbled on two important pieces of information.

Firstly, a Monkey Gland is made as follows:

2 oz gin
1 oz orange juice
1 dash absinthe
orange slice for garnish

Swirl a dash of absinthe in a chilled cocktail glass to coat it, then dump any excess liqueur. Pour the other ingredients into a cocktail shaker with ice cubes, and shake well.

Dr Serge Voronoff
Secondly, the Monkey Gland is so called in honour of Serge Voronoff (1866–1951), a French surgeon of Russian extraction, who pioneered the technique of grafting slices of monkey testicle on to the testicles of men. It was claimed that this treatment would improve memory, eyesight, stamina, sex drive and, above all, prolong life. His operation brought him a brief run of fame and fortune across Europe and America, and he treated anyone who could afford it, from Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to Wolverhampton Wanderers' wing forward Dennis Westcott. He was able to establish his own monkey farm on the Italian Riviera, run by a circus trainer, to which the soprano opera singer Lily Pons was a frequent visitor. He married three times. His second wife was the wealthy socialite Evelyn Bostwick, the mother of eccentric powerboat racer Betty Carstairs. It was Evelyn who translated into English his major work: Life: A Study of the Means of Restoring Vital Energy and Prolonging Life (1920). His research captured the popular imagination; for example, Irving Berlin included a reference to monkey gland therapy in his 1925 song 'Monkey-Doodle-Doo', which later featured in the Marx Brothers' film The Cocoanuts. My guess is that the South African condiment known as monkey gland sauce is also named in celebration of Voronoff.

Voronoff's theories were wrong. Transplanted animal tissue is rejected by humans (using the testicles of convicted criminals was attempted, but he considered this to be unethical), and the substance later identified as testosterone does not prolong life. His amazing 1941 book From Cretin to Genius, which I am currently reading, attempts through numerous examples from history, to show exactly what the miraculous substance is in the brain, a surfeit of which will produce a genius and a lack of which will produce a cretin. Yet he also stresses how narrow the divide is between genius and cretinism. The book has lyrical, quasi-religious tone to it, and it comes as little surprise to learn that Voronoff had dealings with the Cosmic Movement, a spiritual group linked to Martinism. By the end of his life, his work had been completely discredited, and the same scientific establishment that lionized him in the 1920s now mocked and rejected him. He shared the modernist idealism of some twentieth-century eugenicists, yet his aims were to improve the fortunes of all Mankind and to seek out the very stuff of life. He was a true scientific alchemist.

A relative of Voronoff has published this terrific archive, with plenty more details about this fascinating man, here.

No comments:

Post a Comment