Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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   up the Douro's locks
Monday, November 20 2023

On the Douro River in Pinhão, Portugal

The Douro River in Portugal is not a long one, and the itinerary of our cruise had been designed with not a lot of actual movement so as to extend the amount of time it would take. Today, though, our boat was mostly in motion, heading upstream past a series of dams. Each dam had one lock with dimensions that our boat had been specifically designed to be compatible with. I remember how excited everyone had been to go through locks on the Rhone River, and the reaction of this group was similar, at least for, Valeira, the first lock (and second highest in Portugal). We entered at the bottom of a large, dark bathtub, the gate closed behind us, and then pumped-in water lifted us 32 meters to the water level behind the dam, and then another gate opened and our journey continued. Looking out at the dam, I joked that it was "brutalist," as though it might be possible to design a dam in any other style. By the time we reached the second dam in Pocinho, interest on our boat in locks had fallen off markedly.
We had lunch today with Simon and Cathy, the British couple from Chichester, England, who had rescued that friendly white cat in Pinhão. They're only a little older than us but are already pensioners after long careers as flight attendants. They were full of stories about the various people, good and bad, that they've served in their careers. Most people, they said, are well-behaved, but there have been plenty of assholes too. One celebrity I wouldn't've expected to be nice (but was) was one of the Gallaghers from the band Oasis, whom Simon served with his new girlfriend (amusingly, at the time she wasn't yet familiar with the rituals of first-class airline accommodations).

Gretchen wanted some exercise, so after docking in Barca de Alva (near the Spanish border) at dusk, we were the first ones off the boat to explore the village, which was tiny and seemingly empty (as Pinhão had largely been). There wasn't much to see in the village except the odd roofless house, roosting chickens, hanging laundry, or a pair of playful dogs roaming the streets (one much bigger than the other). We walked out to the edge of the village, where an olive plantation began. I tried a fresh olive off a roadside tree and of course it was bitter and inedible, raising the question of how humans had ever come to eat it.


At dinner, Gretchen decided to sit with a new group of people: a couple of gay Americans and an older British couple who now live near Valencia, Spain. The gay couple was originally from Long Island but now live in what sounded like a depressing condo in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Half the gay couple was a Jewish man of about my age and a younger Filipino gentleman. They old us about how their families had reacted to their relationship, and it wasn't all that interesting aside for the fact that the Filipino man's mother had consulted her priest about the relationship and he was totally fine with it, and for that reason she accepted it as well. Most of the rest of the meal conversation was a somewhat-tiresome discussion from the margins of the vegan lifestyle, with the older half of the gay couple going on at great length about what is and what is not a vegan wine. (I'm the kind of vegan who doesn't worry about the vegan-ness of a product like wine that is usually inherently vegan). Meanwhile that guy and I were struggling through huge slabs of pumpkin that lay at the center of the entree we'd both mistakenly ordered.
At some point the topic of dinner conversation turned to dental implants, and the female half of the British couple from Valencia said she'd had to have a "sinus lift." I'd heard these mentioned in the context of a dental office, though nobody had said what they're for. The woman explained that after serious bone loss from the root of a molar or pre-molar, the tooth socket can become connected to the sinuses, making it so that ever inhale through the nose also pulls air up through the tooth's socket. To fix this, a membrane is installed and bones is encouraged to grow over this membrane, forming a permanent seal.
Meanwhile, the male half of the British couple from Valencia was a little hard to understand due to his northern-English-industrial-city accent. He didn't pronounce "r" in many contexts, so "port" ended up sounding like a hybrid of "pot" and "pet."

After dinner, Gretchen and I used the room's television to watch what promised to be a fun star-studded comedy called Keeping Up With the Jones. But it ended up being not nearly as funny we expected. And it was a problem that not even the star power of Jon Hamm and Gal Gadot could fix. Part of the problem was Zach Galifianakis, who always spoils a film, and in this one was unexpectedly unfat.

A creek pouring down a rocky slope a little up the Douro River from the Valeira Dam. Click to enlarge.

The downstream side of the Pocinho lock. Click to enlarge.

The Pocinho dam and lock. Click to enlarge.

The Pocinho dam and lock. Click to enlarge.

A prickly pear near the Pocinho dam. All cacti are from the New World, so here this is an invasive species. Click to enlarge.

A watery landscape near Barca de Alva. Click to enlarge.

Roosting chickens ar dusk in Barca de Alva. Click to enlarge.

Fig trees(?) growing up in a roofless house in Barca de Alva. Click to enlarge.

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