On Walking in Footsteps

Seek not to follow in the footsteps of men of old, seek what they sought.

Matsou Basho

This week I was in Cambridge, England for a business meeting. I stayed in a stately, traditional English hotel dating back hundreds of years in the center of several prestigious universities. The bar in the hotel had specialty cocktails on their menu created in honor of historical figures of note. Amongst the cocktail list there was a rum based one named “Sir Jack’s Bat” for the cricket player Jack Hobbs, a tequila based concoction called “The Beetle Collector” for the scientist Charles Darwin, and a cocktail called “The Secret of Life.” Being gin based, I was drawn to it immediately. Reading the description, the cocktail was named for the discovery of the DNA double helix structure at the Cavendish Laboratory by the Nobel Prize recipients Watson and Crick (I won’t go into the details of Rosalind Frank and her contributions to the discovery that were slighted). Not until that moment did it dawn on me I was right there. The place where the 3D structure of the building blocks of life was elucidated. Here I was, sitting in a bar overlooking a quintessential English park where some of the groundbreaking work that laid the foundation for my own work began. How cool is that?

Call it ghoulish, nerdy, bizarre, boring, fanciful etc—your choice—I love to see people, places, or things of significance. View the creations that people endowed with extraordinary talents made. Listen to visionaries that see beyond the everyday and push forward the envelope of our existence to the next level, be they artists, authors, scientists, leaders, etc. When I’m traveling and I have opportunity, I’m there. I’ve walked down the same steps as Nobel Prize recipients in City Hall in Stockholm, had cocktails at a bar in the Palace Hotel in Madrid that Ernest Hemingway frequented and described in ”The Sun Also Rises,” visited the apartment where Miguel de Cervantes spent the last years of his life (and bought a copy of Don Quixote in Spanish, to remind me of when I read it in Spanish class during my youth), contemplated Mona Lisa’s smile at the Louvre in Paris, listened to Leroy Hood expound on his technological breakthroughs enabling personalized medicine, marveled at the grief and love that inspired the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. These are just a few examples of what I feel reflect the exquisite emotions, character, and soul of our humanity, as captured in creations such as buildings, artwork, literature, and technology.

Over the years, a lot of my research has been closely tied to the four letters “ATCG” and the manipulation of DNA, RNA, and its translated products, proteins. In the scientific community, we talk about “scientific pedigree” and whose lab you come from (i.e. with whom did you train). Being a part of the scientific community is kind of like being in a family, and each of us build on the past discoveries of our brethren. That’s how we move forward. I’m not going to ever win a Nobel Prize, but sitting in the place where a discovery that impacted and has driven so much of my life’s work made me feel linked to the past, present, and future. I imagine that we are all threads that weave the tapestry of life. When one color ends, another takes its place. One day I’ll be gone, but I like to imagine that where my thread left off, another will pick up and continue the pattern I and so many others have created.

Signature cocktails at Parker’s Tavern, in the University Arms Hotel in Cambridge, UK

Sir Jack’s Bat—El Dorado 12 yr old rum, Bruxo No 2 mezcal, fennel seed syrup, Angostura bitters, orange bitters (amazing)

The Beetle Collector-Ocho Blanco tequila, Anchos Reyes chilli liqueur, pink grapefruit, lime, sugar, Parker’s Tavern Pale Ale, Anty gin (I did not try)

The Secret of Life—Strawberry Hendrick’s gin, Sacred English spiced vermouth, Sacred Rosechip Cup liquor, rhubarb bitters (excellent)

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