A wintery visit to the botanic gardens (Cambridge, UK) was the beginning of our Christmas celebration which was organized by Lenka Filipkova. It was a typical gray and ‘about-to-rain’ Cambridge morning when we gathered for a walk around the gardens. Lenka acted as tour guide with a wealth of information and patience as the different contingents pulled in different directions with the British, not minding the drizzle and the cold, moving in search of trees and barren flower beds, and the more continentally minded looking for the shelter of the green houses and the tropical exhibits. It was a great occasion to see this fantastic botanic collection which in winter, allows one to appreciate things which might be hidden in the Spring and Summer by the exuberance of the flowering plants at their best.
The botanic gardens were the backdrop for the lunch, which we had in the cafeteria of the recently opened Sainsbury lab. By general agreement the meal was excellent. For my part, the best Christmas meal I have had in a very long time. There was a lot of us (see picture), as some of our collaborators joined us for the occasion. After lunch we had a little present and Adrian Friday took us to a tour of the Museum of Zoology. He built the visit around the Voyage of the Beagle and the relationship that the Museum has had with the specimens that Darwin brought from the trip. Adrian, curator of the museum for many years, knows every corner of the place and enthralled us with a mixture of anecdotes, history and science. In a special concesion, he took us through the backstage where most the specimens are kept out of public sight but open for research. We saw endless shelves with animals kept in spirits, specimens from the Beagle, birds of exotic places. For many of us, so deeply entrained on molecular and cellular matters, it was a good experience to have a chance to face the real deal: the organism, in all its beauty and variety.
This day signalled the beginning of Chistmas. There was, and still, some work to do before the universal annual ritual that uses Christmas as an excuse to take a break and, as somebody pointed out to me, celebrate an old pagan rite of the depth of winter with food and heat.