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CIA - Collegium Internationionale Allergologicum
Collegium Internationale Allergologicum
 

Sidelines of CIA activities

CHRISTINE DE WECK

What did a philologist do in the CIA? The first notion of CIA’s existence dawned upon me in Freiburg/Breisgau in 1962. It was at a time when the worst aftermath of World War II was over. International clubs, committees, societies started to emerge. Most of them, of course, out of private initiatives. There were some small contributions from pharmaceutical industries for the medical field, but the main burden lay with the respective professors, faculties and their staff. There were no congress organizers - such a thing was unheard of in Europe. There were no simultaneous interpreter services. All those commodities were to come. At that moment, however, everything was home-made. The congress language was that of the organizing country. Very timidly English appeared as universal means of communication, though in the medical field in continental Europe only few professors and scientists were fluent in it. Some younger fellows had maybe just spent one year, rarely more, abroad in England or the United States. As philologist with anglistics as main subject, I had specialized (by force of circumstance: husband physician at the University of Freiburg) in terminology and in teaching the English language in the medical field. Apart from lessons to the medical staff, I fabricated the first translations in this scientific field. German authors started to be published again in English in international papers. This was the background which made me a welcome guest in the small circle of a CIA meeting in Freiburg/Br. I met many people who later became good friends, some of whom have already passed away, alas.

The 1962 meeting in Freiburg was uneventful as such for me, only somewhat strenuous as many a small conversation had still to be interpreted simultaneously.

The next meeting, London 1964, was quite eventful as I attended as accompanying person and got acquainted with the customs of the CIA. There was the question: "Why did you marry your husband?" and the original answer was heard: "I cannot tell you here, because he shouldn’t know!" to "Oh, I married him because he was so handsome!!" Looking at the subject of such an adoration was often more than funny. The London meeting was very elegant. The older English members were sophisticated, the wives impeccably styled. They loved tea-time and a good conversation. There was no ladies' programm, yet, various small groups of old friends existed where new younger friends were easily accepted and instructed on the main purpose of a CIA meeting, which was by no means only the scientific aspect, but also family connections. The CIA was unique at that time, as it also fostered the relationship between the various families of internationally recognized scientists. London was fascinating and still at its best. Gala dinner: "No smoking before the Toast to the Queen !" For the first time I listened to the "minutes" of the unforgettable Prof. West who made us weep with laughter. Otherwise, the members consisted mainly of very dignified older English gentlemen and of some other nationalities who were in the minority but had been founding members of the first meeting in 1954.

Already in London, younger members with their wives were recruited for a rejuvenation and enlargement of this very exclusive club. I think, it was in London that the dice were cast and the CIA was to take a delightful part of some of my activities for almost twenty years through my husband. Sometimes it was hard work and sometimes it was pure fun. From those memories, some should not be forgotten and pleasant and funny ones should be remembered here.

There was Tel Aviv in 1968. Our second visit in this fast changing, fascinating young and yet so old country. The Weizman Institute played host and was established as one of the most important scientific centers at that time. We still saw Old Jaffa and Tel Aviv, as it had been. Both have now very little resemblance to what we saw in 1968. The visit of a Kibutz was a revelation to many of us, as well as the strict military duties every citizen, including young scientists, had to fulfill. Jerusalem was a highlight in our programm and for the first time the entire town could be seen. We witnessed the beginning of a growing nation.

1970 Montreux. The first meeting my husband organized technically. Looking for rooms: the Montreux Palace was the only place where a meeting could be held. The building seem from the outside was the same as today - but inside... Only the reception rooms downstairs and the first floor had been renovated. The top floor was still inhabited by very old and wealthy permanent guests. The rest of the floors and rooms were still an incredible sight. Large rooms, beautifully furnished, but without a bathroom. A washstand with expensive majolica basins and pitchers, embroidered towels and lace curtains. What should we do? Who should be lodged in the modernized rooms and who would not rebel but be content in the old-fashioned, very stylish rooms? For whom should we find a smaller but more modern hotel? Those were our problems. Fortunately the CIA was still a very small, restricted club and modest contributions were sufficient. Invited guests were honored to come. Criticism was out of question. Technical problems had to be solved as well as possible. A projection apparatus was found and finally also a spare bulb. The screen had also to be rented at a photo shop in town. The best was the fact that the tiny budget need not be strained for ladies’ gifts. A letter was sent to two prominent Swiss handkerchief manufacturers. Instantly we received 50 beautiful sample hankies free of charge. Some more letters to the centers and distributors of perfumes had to be sent. All responded with sufficient samples of first class products. It was the least expensive ladies’ gifts ever offered in a CIA meeting. It cost some stamps and the effort of writing some personal letters. The final result was a handkerchief knotted into a bundle, containing various, precious, little perfume bottles which were placed in the rooms as a welcome to the arriving guests. Unthinkable now, where even those small sample bottles are sold in a box for quite a sum. Château Chillon was rented for almost nothing as the meeting was a "cultural event" and the menu served from the kitchen of the Palace Hotel was obtained for a modest price, transportation to the castle free of charge. All members and guests could be seated in the two spacious rooms of the castle. The guests arrived in three small boats via the lake, welcomed by trumpets of herolds who stood in the windows of the castle, lit by a glorious sunset. a professional photographer was at hand. Photos could be shot in the gothic windows with the lake and the golden sun in the background. Half an oxen roasted in the open chimney and minstrels were playing and singing medieval ballads. Each course was announced by a fanfare. Speeches were made as usual and we feasted unhurriedly for quite a while. Good memories, everybody spoke to everybody. The ladies and even some of the accompanying children spoke English. There were no longer any language barriers. International friendships were made or renewed. Unforgettable the arrival of three big boys with black Fedora hats and each of them smoking a huge Havanna cigar (L. Lichtenstein, B. Levine, B. Bloom). When they emerged from a tiny VW beetle car, it looked better than any Hollywood picture. The porter of the Palace Hotel just gasped and would not believe that they belonged to the group of serious scientists.

1972 there was London again - Swinging London, much more relaxed than in 1964, many more young faces and different nationalities. But all in all the club was still small and exclusive. Sponsors started to be mentioned more frequently and more openly and they became more generous.

1974 Copenhagen was a feast. Dinner in Tivoli Gardens, a relaxed meeting and children and accompanying persons took part in organized excursions. The official boat excursion slowly became a tradition. From then on there was no meeting without a boat excursion.

This brings us to Heidelberg 1976. An evident change of generations had occurred. The founding members had become less prominent and rarely attended the meetings anymore. Tuxedos were still donned for the official dinner, but the evening gowns of the ladies became shorter and shorter. During this meeting another tradition was firmly established or better imposed on the club: during the charming boat rides, it was raining. There it was on the Neckar that fog and rain drops accompanied us, but from that meeting on, there was no boat trip without at least some rain drops - even in Capri.


The President of the CIA Felix Milgrom
with Christine de Weck and Mario Ricci.
New Orleans, 1978.

1978 New Orleans: here Geoffry West made us sing "The three little Pigs..." and something alike which did not meet the approval of everybody, but was nevertheless, very funny and the last time that such typical English College habits were practised. Renovations in the French Quarter were beginning, the Old South with Jazz and young Jazz musicians in the streets were still unspoilt. The town was safe and a lively mixture of tourists and natives crowded the town till the wee hours. In the middle of town in front of our hotel there was a large bill board announcing the CIA meeting. Many an astonished tourist stopped and wondered why the meanwhile notorious secret branch of the US government had gone so public. Only the ones mastering Latin could read the small words: of "Collegium Internationale Allergologicum". Soon, we were the talk of the town and regarded with suspicious eyes. The joke CIA - CIA became permanent in after dinner speeches. Our boat trip down into the Mississippi Delta confronted us with a ship damaged by sea. The weather was sultry and some rain drops fell, consequently we were quite happy when regaining hard soil under our feet.

1980 Konstanz. Peter Dukor and my husband organized this meeting. We could survey the evolution the small and exclusive club had made in 20 years. The budget had become sizeable, sponsoring industries sent their representatives and scientists. A still small publicity for the one or the other firm started to become felt and from the background recognition for their contributions was claimed. Ladies’ gifts had to be bought - nothing was free anymore. The beautiful "Insel Hotel", once home to Graf Zeppelin, was renovated and glad to receive the "CIA". Almost everybody could be lodged in one hotel, as was actually the ideal situation for the spirit of such a meeting.

The traditional boat excursion: bright skies, not a cloud, everybody ready for the trip to Meersburg across the lake. Every detail had been planned. In Meersburg a band would play at the coctails on the large terrace of the palace. The sun would set in the West and the Moon would rise simultaneously in the South East. Dinner would follow in the exquisite rooms of the palace of the Prince Bishop and so on. Everybody gathered at the quay in Konstanz. The ladies checked out in evening gowns, the gentlemen in their dark best suits. The sky was blue, the sun shone bright, a tiny cloud appeared almost imperceptibly in the South. We embarked on one of the big public pleasure boats which cruise the lake between the various locations as public pleasure boats which cruise the lake between the various locations as public transportation. The group was still too small for an entire boat to cross such a short distance. This was not yet justified. Everybody went under deck, be it not to spoil the elaborate hairdoes and elegant outfits or as to the gentlemen to have a small talk undisturbed. The crossing of the lake lasted in all 20 minutes which was spent chatting and laughing. Shortly before disembarcation, everybody came on deck and the laughter stopped. Panic-stricken, we looked at the sky which was dark grey to black. The deep rolling of thunder was heard. The boat docked and the bridge was fastened. In this very moment, a downpour started, which is only known from descriptions of tropical storms. No shelter, whatsoever, at the Meersburg harbour. The public boat had to depart as the schedule prescribed. a small ice vendor’s hut with a tiny roof was the only shelter available. Three people had umbrellas and became instantly popular. The rest was mercilessly delivered to the violence of nature. Some members preferred to stay on board. They made a most adventurous ride, as this was the last boat of the day. They had to find taxis at Lindau, some 70 km further to return as the boat could not dock before on account of the storm. The courageous ones in the harbour of Meersburg were almost instantly rewarded: after a short while, the storm stopped and the drenched little group could proceed upwards to the palace where the band played in the hall. Large amounts of beverages were gulped down to get warm. The elegant outfits including hairdoes were ruined, but soon the "Stimmung" was elated. Dinner was excellent - the menu cards and placement cards had been lost in the turmoil. Nevertheless, everybody enjoyed a healthy appetite - which might not have been the case with some, had they read on the menu, that snail soup was offered as an entrance, a local speciality. Shortly after 10 p.m., we had to take the boat back. Seldom did you see such a happy crowd groping down the steps and the steep lanes of Meersburg in a pitch dark, warm but humid night. Singing and joking, we sailed towards Konstanz only to arrive to a brillant moonlight. And delightful weather in the following days.


Hilarious dancing activities. Capri, 1992

1982 takes us to Sorrento. Everyone spoke English rather fluently and English had become the universal language of all allergologists in the CIA. There were hardly any founding members left to attend the meetings. The club, as such, had become very international. Japanese and Corean members were accepted and new young faces and families were appearing. Entertainment for the accompanying families (as more and more children joined the big CIA family) was provided and had become the rule. A meeting place of accompanying guests was always provided - be it a corner at the swimming pool or in the lobby of the hotel. Sorrento, beautiful as ever, though a chilly autumn breeze was felt at some times. The boat excursion could only head for Capri, the fabled island directly facing the Sorrento peninsular. Dinner for 200 guests was prepared at the Quisisana Hotel. The host Professor at the University of Neapel was already on his way to dinner from Neapel in his private yacht. CIA members assembled at the quay ready to embark in two fast air-cushion boats, large enough to accomodate everybody. Ahoi - and we left the port of Sorrento. Everything fine - we were still in the bay - the sea was somewhat agitated, but there was nothing frightening expected. The sea got rougher and rougher. Black clouds descended upon us. Some drops of rain. People started to look pale - not everybody, but some. We left the bay and were already near to Capri. The ship shook and wobbled. The desperate captain had to make a decision and he turned back. With the wind coming from the bad side, he would not be able to enter the small harbour of Capri and dock the boat. Seasick passengers do no longer care. They wanted to land. The boat made it back to Sorrento. However, now the big problem arose for the organizers: "Where to find a restaurant to host a dinner for all the people (except the seasick persons)? And all this in less than two hours? Remembering a large garden restaurant, seen by hazard with good food, would be the only solution. Italian innkeepers are magicians. And this cook was no exception. Within 1 2 hours, he had set up a delicious dinner for 200 guests with the help of this family, friends and neighbours.

Meanwhile our host sat with some guests of honor alone in front of 200 empty seats at the dinner table in Capri. The wind howled, rain fell and this company had to stay overnight on the island. As usual after tight situations, the mood was extremely good in Sorrento and all members present remember that dinner as one of the best, especially the wines, although it was actually a very simple meal.

In Puerto Vallarta 1984 the tuxedos had remained at home, some long evening gowns, however, still traveled to Mexico. It was warm and sticky. It rained a few drops, too, when doing the traditional boat trip. Swimming was fine. However, it was bothersome that all the time the body felt wet by tropical humidity. In some houses airconditioning was out of order and several times per day only a dip into the cold.i.e. the lukewarm water of the bath tub would bring some refreshment. All clothing, clear or not, had to be washed. Everything was hopelessly out of shape and humid. The margharitas and consequently the relaxed company was great fun. The excursions brought us to admire the homes of famous movie stars and other celebrities, although I believe, meanwhile the place has lost some of its glamour.

1986 the meeting was in Göteborg to honour the founders of the growing club. At that time, two outstanding scientists, involved in a nasty quarrel in the field of AIDS, accepted the invitation to this meeting. Malicious tongues remarked: "It is only on account of Sweden - not the club, that the invitation was accepted." Those rivals shook hands and behaved very well. Thus the meeting was a success and everybody was scientifically rewarded.

1988 was in Martinique but for the first time, I was absent.

1990 the CIA headed for Madeira. Tuxedos and short evening gowns were packed. And there was the immense pleasure that one of the last active, founding members (Zoltan Ovary) also made it possible to attend the meeting. Looking at the old gentleman and then at the young relaxed crowd, it became obvious that the CIA had undergone a complete change. Generations had changed, the formerly young members were evidently now "the old ones", but the spirit of a large family including wives and children had remained. Also the good fellowship among the various scientists was the same. The basic idea of the club was the relaxed exchange of ideas and not competition. This spirit was transfered to the next generation and will certainly have a follow-up.


The grand tenor of Italian immunology, 
Mario Ricci and his wife Eugenia. 
Capri, 1992

1992 Capri. After the failure to reach Capri in 1982 from Sorrento, it was decided to go rightaway on the island. If ever weather should forbid to leave the island, nobody would mind. It was an elegant meeting with excursions for accompanying persons and, of course, the boat trip. We did the boat ride and headed for the Coast of Amalfi, the Southside of the Sorrento Peninsular. Fine weather, a slight breeze - but believe it or not: at the height of Amalfi, there were some clouds and short rain shower. This tradition was therewith firmly established: whenever and wherever the CIA entered a boat, there would be some rain drops!


It was a big boat...
Nantucket, 1994

1994, Nantucket Island. Tuxedo and evening gowns remained home. It was a beach holiday on that nordic island. The novelty was a huge tent under which we were dining and feasting instead of a ball room. There was almost no boat trip planned, as most members had to arrive by ferry, anyway. But we had out boat trip. As there were black clouds and wind, the boat was a big seaworthy ship with closed saloons and dining rooms. A band played and a big buffet was offered. It was the biggest boat the CIA could afford ever. It showed that volume and sponsors were augmenting, together with that also the administration. Nobody could manage a CIA meeting anymore alone, things had become too complicated. Professional help was needed. The boat took us out into the Atlantic Ocean in direction of Europe where the next meeting in 1996 will be held in the mountains of Austria. There will be lakes for the boat trip and certainly also clouds with some rain drops. But maybe it would be wise to remember the tuxedos and the evening gowns, as the place is an old hunting castle and Austria was an old imperial country.




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