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").


decay & ruin
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   quiz night on the Andorinha
Thursday, November 23 2023

Room 215 on the Andorinha on the Douro River in Peso da Régua, Portugal

Today would be the last day of boat travel, but we still had more than a day left of the cruise. After going down through the last of the locks, our boat passed under the many bridges of downtown Porto. This was a spectacular beautiful sight to behold, at least by the standards of manmade artifacts we'd seen in Portugal up until then. There were two iron bridges, one of which had been designed by Gustave Eiffle, whom you likely know from the tower in Paris that was supposed to have been torn down soon after it was built.
We had lunch while we were still upstream some distance from Porto with an older American couple who, like our new friends from Chichester, had had careers in the airline industry. The woman had been an airline attendant and the man had worked with cargo (he never said how). Unlike the couple from Chichester, these two had met relatively late in life, when the man had teenage children from an earlier marriage. They seemed to be the kind of vegans who are mostly concerned with health (what I call "selfish vegans"), and I'd seen the man using a handrail in the second floor hallway as exercise equipment. They talked about a retirement community they live in near Portland where they run a "plant-based" organization that has successfully improved the dietary offerings of the community. They said that when they'd first joined the community and started agitating for plant-based options, it was met with considerable resistance from some of the existing residents, who apparently thought all new residents should be satisfied with the food that they, the old timers like. But after some years, things are better, and it's looking like the conglomerate running the facility is even considering advertising that they offer plant-based options. I asked if the thing that had quieted the resistance to better food was that the old timers had died off, and they said that that was pretty much what had happened. One of the old timers who doesn't like plant-based food is still there, they said, but he's no longer in a cognitive condition that would allow him to complain.
This older American couple was nice and very ernest, but they were utterly devoid of any sense of humor that I could identify. I tried a few little jokes on them, things that would have caused gales of laughter from the Chichester couple, and they just stared back at me blankly. I think the reason Gretchen and I usually befriend British and Australian people on these cruises is that they tend to have a richer sense of humor and are unafraid of going into dark places or being a little offensive to land a joke. Yesterday on the bus ride back from Lamego, for example, I cautiously asked Chichester Cathy a silly question that I'd earlier asked Gretchen, which was something like, "I wonder why Carmem hasn't said anything about port wine stain yet?" Cathy thought this question hilarious, but the older couple from Portland would've just stared at me like I'd said something in Portuguese.
At that lunch, we had our first real Indian food on the cruise. It was "Bombay potatoes," a mixed vegetable curry with lots of potatoes. I thought it was pretty good, and so did the female half of the older Portland couple. She asked our waiter (a tall hilarious man whose name and country of origin I never became aware of) if there was any mango chutney available as a condiment. There wasn't, of course, but he said he'd go check. He later built that request into a hilarious story about how he would be having nightmares about not being able to find mango chutney, something Gretchen would bring up when we saw him at subsequent meals.
When our boat finally docked, it as at the farthest-west dock in the Douro. Technically, we weren't even in Porto anymore (which is north of the Douro) but a municipality called Canidelo. Beyond our dock to the west, all we could see was sand dunes blocking our view of the raw Atlantic Ocean. This wasn't a great harbor for tourists (there were other riverboats parked at those; I suppose the people on those cruises had paid more so they would be docked there). Despite the distance from the center of Porto, Gretchen wanted to go out and explore. I'd spent nearly every moment of this cruise with Gretchen, which is much more than I usually spend, so I was due for a break. So I stayed on the boat while Gretchen did her thing. She later reported that she'd shared an Uber with a nice youngish Belgian couple from our boat and had bonded over how much they dislike Carmem for reasons ranging from "racism" (which probably isn't the right term for when the Portuguese dehumanize Spaniards) to frequent factual inaccuracies. The Belgian couple eventually opted to cruise around central Porto in a tuktuk (the three-wheeled passenger motorcycles we know from India; they're very popular in Portuguese cities and called "tuktuks" there as well) while Gretchen did a bunch of walking, though eventually she met up with them at a pre-arranged location to ride with them in their Uber back to the boat. In addition to discussing their dislike of Carmem, they also talked some about tech jobs, since Gretchen was almost certainly trying to find me one if they knew of a suitable opening.
Meanwhile, I took a shower, drank a shit-ton of robot-generated cappuccino, and, once that got to be a bit much, drank 100 mg of gin from the last of the three 100 mg bottles I'd smuggled from the United States. [Google's AI assistant tells me this is two shots.] I'd been doing nearly all of my drinking only at dinner and very openly on this cruise (which, for me, counts as constraint), but I needed a little me time. This allowed me to do a little catch up on my chronicles and processing of photographs, although the internet on the boat has been so terrible that I hadn't been able to post much to Facebook.
At dinner, we sat with the Chichester couple and JP, the male half of that couple with the places in both Ireland and Portugal (his wife, who had been wearing a mask earlier in the cruise, was feeling ill he said). Since there were fewer people at the table interested in the nitty gritty of engineering, dinner conversation was mostly about the various calamities awaiting humanity due to our capacity to create global problems coupled with our inability to recognize the dangers of these problems rapidly enough to deal with them. Climate catastrophe (Gretchen's preferred term for "global warming" or "climate change") is the biggest, most pressing issue, but there's also antropogenic extinction, desertification, numerous forms of pollution, and overpopulation. Of the people at our table, JP seemed the least concerned about humanity's fate on the planet. He said that at some point things will get so dire that something will have to be done. By then, billions of people might already have been killed. But he seemed to have faith that humans will rise to meet the challenged if pressed hard enough, though he agreed with the rest of us that getting to that point would end up being a horror for most people. JP's thoughts on this made some sense to me, but what happens if the world is by then so unsuitable for human life that there aren't enough humans to do what needs to be done (whatever that ends up being)? I suppose that even climate catastrophe won't render the entire planet uninhabitable for humans, and the few that remain will exhibit the flexibility and ingenuity humans are known for. But I largely nodded my head at what JP was saying. I didn't really add much to the conversation except to say, when JP mentioned peak oil (a once-imminent crisis that fizzled out or been delayed), that I too used to be very concerned about peak oil.

After dinner, a small subset of us went upstairs for the post-dinner activity. Gretchen and I usually don't participate in such activities, but tonight was trivia night, and we're good at trivia. (Gretchen has often said that if we were on a trivia team, we'd be formidable, since we both know a lot, yet our knowledge doesn't much overlap. She knows about movies, musicals, poetry, art, and music, whereas my knowlege is about science, geography, art, music, and history.)
Dirk was the master of ceremonies had is break up into teams ranging in size from four to eight people. He then began asking the questions, which were all much harder than any asked on Jeopardy!. The only relatively easy questions, at least initially, were that way because there wouldn't be that many choices to pick between. What, for example, was the auto company that sold the most cars last year? The answer (at least according to Dirk) was VW, though of course we guessed Toyota. This happened for a bunch of questions, though I knew the answer to a few (such as "What is the smallest bird?" and where is the Ross Ice Shelf?"). Our team's other person with answers was Gretchen; she successfully guessed the number of stars on the Chinese flag (four) and what the fear trees is called (dendrophobia). As for Cathy and Simon, neither of them have much to add to a game of trivia, though Simon came up with an answer about a character in the videogames (that answer being "Luigi). But he also insisted on Greece being the country with the most World Heritage Sites when Gretchen I were pretty sure it was Italy (it was).
We'd been told to put away our phones, but about halfway through the game, Dirk busted a middle-aged Vietnamese woman for having her phone out. The poor woman apparently doesn't understand English very well and is obsessed with her phone (indeed, throughout the cruise she and her daughter had spent most of their time in public taking and posing for selfies in the most annoying solipsistic way one can imagine). So the poor woman left the trivia game utterly mortified.
Dirk swapped our answer forms around, exactly like how teachers would have their students grade other students' tests. A riot nearly happened when Dirk insisted that there are 257 bones in the adult human body. A cursory Google search during the grading revealed the number to be 206, which is what I'd had our team choose as the answer. So Dirk backed down and accepted 206. When one of the teams tried to say "arbophobia" is a word, I sneered from across the room that one cannot mix Greek and Latin so "AHHHHHHH!" (the sound of the losing buzzer on Jeopardy!). I know, "television" is a mixing of Greek and Latin. But that used to be controversial.
Of the 20 questions, we'd managed to answer 12 of them correctly, which ended up being seconds place (there's been six or seven teams). The winning team got fifteen answers right but had at least six people on it, making their victory something of an asterisk-wearer.
At some point I went to the public men's room near the main stairway and was horrified to see a brown smudge at the back of the toilet seat. This suggested that there was a man on the boat who had some combination of the following traits:
  • The top of his asscrack is so full of shit that it besmirches everything that it comes in contact with.
  • He doesn't notice that his asscrack does this to toilet seats.
  • He does notice that his asscrack does this to toilet seats and he does nothing about it.
It was so unnerving to know someone capable of such a thing was on this boat with us that I felt a little trapped.

When we finally got back to our room, Gretchen initially tried to watch more of Amsterdam, but when it was clear I wasn't interested, she turned off the teevee and went to sleep.

At the bottom of the Carrapatelo Lock. Looking at the thumbnail, at first I thought this was a wine glass on a table in a restaurant with white table cloths. Click to enlarge.

Gretchen looking for a sunny spot on the deck after we descend the Carrapatelo Lock. Click to enlarge.

Beautiful semi-wild countryside between the two lowest locks on the Douro. Click to enlarge.

The first of Porto's many bridges as we came downstream from the east. Click to enlarge.

Two very different bridges across the Douro a little east of downtown Porto. Click to enlarge.

Details on the Maria Pia Bridge, an iron bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel in Porto. Click to enlarge.

A train on a track along the Douro in Porto. Click to enlarge.

The north bank of the Douro is often rocky and heavily modified with human-made terraces and walls. Click to enlarge.

Looking back at the Maria Pia Bridge well after passing under it. Click to enlarge.

A modern bridge followed by a different open-framework iron bridge. More on that in the next photo. Click to enlarge.

Approaching another iron bridge called the Luís I Bridge, this one not by Eiffel but heavily influenced by it. It's interesting in that it has two totally different levels of deck, one for people at the top of the gorge and another for those down near the river. Also note the simple castle just right of the bridge. Click to enlarge.

The Douro waterfront. Click to enlarge.

An old monastery near the south end of the top deck of the Luís I Bridge. Click to enlarge.

In places the roadway along the north bank of the Douro is actually built on a platform erected from the river bottom. Click to enlarge.

Gretchen liked all the plants being grown on the modern building on the right. Click to enlarge.

The map of the floors of our boat, the Andorinha, starting at the top deck. Our cabin was on the second floor (the third from the top) with mid-priced accommodations. People on the third floor had slightly larger cabins and people (such as the Chichester couple) down on the first floor had windows they couldn't open and smaller cabins. Click to enlarge.

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