Minutes in the Style of Geoffrey West of the 18th Symposium of the Collegium Internationale Allergologicum held in Madeira, September 1990
The 1990 meeting convened in a hotel originally called the Sheraton in Funchal on the ancient island of Madeira. Unfortunately, in changing its name from the Sheraton to the Carlton, a small computer error erased the CIA booking which accounted for some subsequent minor problems in communication.
Madeira was discovered in the fifteenth century by the Portuguese navigator Prince Henry. It is a picturesque island full of steep, terraced mountainsides covered with banana plantations and, surprisingly, gum trees at certain heights. The island is known for its wine, cake and flowers as well as the extraordinary hospitality of its inhabitants. It is also famed as the burial place for Paul Langerhans and the last vestiges of Austrian High Society: the Emperor Karl.
On his way to the meeting, your executive secretary sat beside a delightful ex-commercial pilot who explained in detail how he ditched a plane 30 years ago, off Sicily, in the middle of the night and that only seven passengers had drowned. He explained the problems of the approach into Funchal, its dangers and the fact that the pilot faced a brick wall at one end of a runway half the size of normal, a mountain at the other end, and the sea on yet a third side, should he make a mistake. He had extensive experience in the middle east and referred to the Iraqi dictator as Sod him Hussein.
Sehon with his infinite capacity for organization found himself erased by a vindictive computer operator from the TAP program, and offered an eloquent and passionate appeal in a succession of languages to a succession of deaf officials of TAP. He succeeded in getting back on the passenger list in London. He distinguished himself by then losing his newly acquired boarding card. On the return leg of this memorable journey, he was told he could only take two suitcases. Since he had six, this caused another fluent but relatively discordant attack on the quality of the individual’s lineage. The TAP agent’s rejoinder was to declare the Sehons redundant, a rare show of real power. I am happy to report that Sehon won this final round and got two first class tickets. Final score: Sehon - 2, TAP - 0.
When we arrived it was evident that a serious storm had occurred in Funchal and had left major damage in its wake. At times, the streets were one metre deep in water. As a consequence, the lower swimming pool was filled (literally) with mud and debris and took two forty ton trucks and a backhoe to dig it out. As a consequence, our members were subjected to the undue hardship of walking up several flights of stairs to their rooms due to the loss of the main elevators. Several unnamed, unfit and otherwise decrepit members spent several nights on the couches in the lobby rather than exert themselves unduly.
The hotel was characterized by good food and good service and telephone calls cost the economic price of $100 for five minutes to the US. The city was wonderful and had an "ex-Beatles" yacht in the harbour.
The boat trip was calm and we did not need the scopolamine patches behind our ears. We docked in a local fishing village where all the children appeared to have amassed to welcome us with outstretched hands. On the way we saw the highest sea cliffs in Europe and the deepest waters, home of the extraordinarily ugly and equally delicious espada. Your secretary was especially pleased that he had chosen the bigger boat for conveyance when he noted that the members of the second boat were only protected from the inclement weather by three umbrellas. Luckily this did not last long.
As usual, the CIA has pioneered organizational structures. This year has been no different and has been the "year of the fax". The scientific program of the meeting was decided in skeleton form at the Montreux, ICACI in 1988. Since that time, letters and faxes from two of our leading members to Stephen Holgate totalled 640 pages. Those from your executive secretary, he is proud to relate, totalled 40.
Alain de Weck laid out significant sums to purchase postcards as souvenir programs for the new members at the gala dinner where ceremony was reintroduced to the CIA. Some evidence of maturity was shown however in the decision not to ask the wives of new members embarrassing questions, at least in public. Professor de Weck looked very patrician in his new ceremonial headgear. At another meeting, Dr. de Weck indicated that he had felt in a particular situation in defence of the CIA against another party, rather like Winkelreid, a Swiss hero, akin, we are told, to Willem Tell. We asked what this meant and he told us the story which goes as follows: Winkelreid was at a battle between the Swiss and some opposing group and he was faced by a serried array of levelled pikes. He broke ranks and charged these pikes, grabbing several and throwing himself on them, thus forming a gap in the ranks of the opposing army, through which his own troops could now drive. As he died, he is said to have shouted, "Take care of my wife and children", but in reality he is reported as having said, "Who is the bastard who pushed me?"
We also were fortunate to learn that our CIA, as opposed to the other sort, is masculine. This was pointed out by a former member of the CIA who subsequently resigned as a matter of principle. However, before he left, he did state that since the CIA was "college" in French, which was masculine, and the other one was "agence", which was feminine, this clearly meant that ours was male and theirs was female, which probably accounts for our success, or at least for a few female members in our organization. Many things were overseen or overheard by myself posing either as a flower or a piece of statuary.
Lowenstein claimed to the last day that the beautiful young woman constantly accompanying him was his daughter.
Andy Grant wanted to know how he could possibly give his life’s work in ten minutes.
Christine de Weck pointed out that she didn’t like all these bare breasts. Stadler in response said, "You look at things differently from me."
It was obvious that Peter Dukor had recovered very well from an attempt on his by an external force. Not only was he unanimously declared the best dressed man at the gala dinner, it was remarked that his illness had served him remarkably, as he now looked fitter and more healthy than in the last fifteen years.
During the actual meeting, several notable things were learned and remarked upon. After one particularly outstanding presentation someone rose with the following question, "What has all this got to do with allergies"? Colin Sanderson in answering a question about the effects on health of overexpression of IL-5 in transgenic animals said, "I don’t know, I am not a mouse doctor". The question was rephrased, "Do you frequently find mice in this experiment dead in the cage"?
Martin Church pointed out that it really did not matter which line is which on a particular slide.
Stadler spent a lot of his time going around the island trying to find a yellow banana actually growing on a tree. He remained disappointed and vowed never to eat bananas again.
A spy was noted in our midst by your past president; a man of indeterminate age, unknown background, dubious credentials, substituting for a Professor with ostensibly good credentials from a well known US University. By the time we rumbled the intruder, he had fled taking our secrets with him.
Larry Schwartz had heard to say in astonishment and obvious horror as de Weck got his cap of office, "My God, this is a fraternity".
Schellenberg had a relatively easy journey to Funchal to present his paper, since we heard that he had once ridden, by bicycle, from Vancouver to Winnipeg to deliver a paper to the abstemious past president’s group. They simply could not afford the fare but then nor could Schellenberg. Ricci and Marone arrived healthy and left with the major headache of organizing the next meeting.
Gompertz was a bit different, in view of our surroundings and fare, about referring in detail to a poison extracted from shellfish which had been used to establish the presence of some ion channels.
The organizers dealt with a few prima donnas (actually they had a different name for them). Several had apparently wonderful and ingenious justifications for absolutely requiring and expecting a second bottle of Madeira. One gentleman wanted a reimbursement for his breakfast which he had ordered to be brought to him in bed. Other than this, the organization was literally flawless.
It was observed by one person, whose mother tongue was not English, that "the organization of the meeting has been typically English and has since improved".
It being noted that Madeira had been a favourite vacation place of Winston Churchill’s, it was fair to say that unlike Winston Churchill’s famous reference for one of his co-workers the organizer of the committee had not set himself impossibly low standards to which he was managing to live up.
An apparently good time was again had by all and the next meeting was a prospect that the membership had no difficulty in regarding with equanimity and some pleasure.