Sunday, August 12, 2007

PAGE 2000

PAGE in the header for this post refers to the "Population Approach Group in Europe", a group of European scientists (pharmacokineticists for the most part) involved in applying the principles and methods of population pharmacokinetic(PK) and pharmacodynamic (PD) modeling to real-world problems in drug development. With me so far? Keep going, it gets better after this, I promise.

Well, because of certain activities in my former life, more specifically, the book I co-authored with my good friend Marie Davidian, (link to the book) I am (and probably will remain, for as long as I live) inextricably linked to the topic of population PK and PD modeling. Thus, it was my honor to be invited to participate as a speaker in the June, 2000 meeting of the PAGE group, which was held in Salamanca. (link to notice of the PAGE 2000 meeting). So, you see, I do have a previous history with Salamanca, about which I've been holding out on you a little.

The conference was immensely enjoyable: it was an honor to have been invited, and I have nothing but the fondest memories of the event, and of Salamanca during that time. My favorite memory is the following. My flight into Madrid airport arrived at around 6pm, which meant I ended up taking the "special conference bus" from the airport, which left at 10pm. There were only about six people on the bus, it was late and I was completely exhausted by then. I vaguely remember passing through the darkened Spanish countryside, perking up briefly at signs of Ávila, then relapsing into exhausted, fitful sleep. When I woke up again, four of the other passengers had mysteriously vanished. The only two people remaining on the bus were one of the other speakers, Jean-Louis Steimer, whom I knew slightly from a previous professional conference, and I. (note: although Jean-Louis doesn't show as a presenter, I'm pretty sure it was he.) The bus kept turning into narrower and narrower streets, until eventually the bus-driver, with an internationally recognizably expression of disgust, just stopped the bus and signalled to us that we had arrived at our destination. Before we had time to gather our wits, we found ourselves on the street, with our bags, watching as the bus vanished into the distance again.

colegio arzobispo fonseca, main entrance

We were right outside the entrance shown above, though both iron doors were completely closed, and the street was dark and deserted. I think both of us had imagined that the conference lodging would consist of some kind of modern, Holiday-Inn-like hotel and there was nothing even remotely resembling such accommodation in sight. We walked up and down the street for a bit, vainly trying to decipher the street name in the dark, desperately seeking in our bags for the destination address, which we eventually located. But, not a person in sight, and nothing but the huge stone walls and medieval iron doors of the university entrance, not that we were able to recognize it as such, given our state of confusion.

Just as we were about to give in to despair, there wandered into view one of the strangest pairs one could imagine - an elderly Spanish gentleman and his wife, very obviously upper middle class, both dressed to the nines, strolling along the street as if it were 9 pm rather than 1 am. They appeared to be giving us a wide berth, but since they were the only visible link to humanity, we fell on them beseechingly, showing them the address we were seeking, and asking them to help. Then, in a scene worthy of Buñuel, the gentleman looked us up and down, looked at the paper with the address, looked us up and down again, and shook his head dismissively, as he delivered himself of the following utterance:

"Yes, it is true that there are accommodations at this address", gesturing vaguely towards the building behind us. "But these accommodations are only for very important people."

And he handed us back the paper firmly, making it perfectly clear that we in no way qualified, in his mind, as the caliber of person who might expect to be lodged there. He and his lovely wife continued on their way, ignoring our protestations that, hey, we were important people....

What to do? At least he had confirmed that we were outside the correct building. So we set to examining the fortress-like entrance a little more closely and finally noticed a porter's bell off to one side (which had to be rung by pulling on it). Two minutes later, a sleepy and noticeably grumpy porter was opening the huge iron door to give us access to our accommodation inside. Regardless of our travel-weary, disheveled appearance, our passports were enough to convince him that we were, indeed, the eminent speakers featured on the program.

So that's my abiding memory of my first trip to Salamanca, in June 2000.

Your (very important) correspondent in Castilla y León.

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