Dateline – Porto, Portugal
Having access to my CPAP last night plus two nights of poor sleep kicked off a chain reaction and I ended up sleeping for nearly fourteen hours. Fortunately, I had nowhere I needed to be or things I needed to do today so sleeping in and then some wasn’t a particular problem. I finally did bestir myself, was somewhat shocked by the time, and made myself move and get out out doors. The weather was pleasant. Yesterday’s rains have gone and we have blue skies, but the weather is still relatively cool in the 70s so it’s not too hot to amble about. The first order of business was brunch, a traditional Portuguese combination of espresso, port wine, custard tarts and something that I decided was a combination of deep fried seafood and potatoes. The server’s limited English precluded my being able to discover more. It was perfectly palatable whatever it was.
I headed in a different direction, up the hill to the cathedral, the oldest extant building in town, dating back to the 12th century and Romanesque in style as Gothic arches and flying buttresses had not yet been invented. they came along a century or so later. Impressive but not as fancy as some others I have been to. I have always been impressed by European medieval cathedrals. They were generally built over the course of centuries, mainly by individuals who knew that they would never see the completion of their work but who kept at it through war, famine and plague, for their love of God, culture, and their fellow humans. We could take a lesson or two from them. There’s more to life than that which gives us immediate gratification. Then, across the top of the Ponte de Dom Luis I which I had seen from below yesterday. Lovely views, a major plunge to the river far below, and a chance to marvel at the combination of beauty and ingenuity that those of the late 19th century brought to wrought iron. Some exploring of back streets, accompanied by generous helpings of gelato and an occasional glass of port and then it was time for dinner and a gathering of the tour group.
Cocktails and dinner with the ten others (five couples roughly five to ten years older than I) with whom I will be spending the next two weeks. They all seem pleasant enough. Three of the couples had met on a previous small group tour with the same company in Italy a few years ago and had old home week. It looks like we will all be compatible as we spend the next few weeks together in various hotels, busses, airplanes, museums and the like. I am odd man out, being companionless, but I learned long ago how to be the extra man in polite society so I don’t think it’s going to be an issue. Dinner, at the hotel restaurant, was quite good. I had salmon, well cooked but I suspect farm raised rather than wild caught. Being from Seattle, one just knows these things.
I have been watching the reaction to Biden’s pronouncements on Covid control and vaccination with some interest. I turned on the local Portuguese news to see what they might have to say, but found that my understanding of spoken Portuguese was wholly inadequate to the task and had to resort to various internet news sites instead. The reactions from the Republican party and conservative governors, including Governor Meemaw in Alabama were wholly predictable, mainly of the third grade ‘No one is going to tell me what to do’ variety. I understand that argument, believe me I do. Bodily autonomy is fairly sacrosanct in terms of cultural mores, the legal system, and medical ethics. Having a governmental entity step up and say ‘Thou must’ is a significant issue. The question is, of course, where do you draw the lines when your choices in bodily autonomy are causing other people to get sick and die. Does the protection of those individuals and their bodily autonomy and right to life start to outweigh your personal beliefs and choices? In terms of vaccination, I thought we had settled that a century ago in the Supreme Court’s Jacobson decision of 1905. In that 7-2 decision, the court ruled that the state’s role in protecting others trumped the individual’s right to refuse and that vaccine mandates were permissible. We’ve been living with them for years and no one has been too fussy at the wiping out of smallpox, polio and a host of other feared diseases over the course of the 20th century.
The decision by various forces to politicize the Covid vaccine as a weapon for partisan purposes is something that’s a bit new in American politics and I can’t say I’m in favor of it on any level. If there were any proven extreme dangers, I could understand the trepidation but there really aren’t. Various people state that the VAERS database is full of underreported complications but if you look at it, it’s a database to which anyone can report anything without any vetting and I would suspect that a significant portion of the negative reports are there for political, rather than for medical purposes. There have been roughly 200 million doses of vaccine administered in the US over the last eight months and the number of serious complications that can be directly related to the vaccine is very, very small. On the same order of magnitude as being struck by lightning (1/500,000). That’s 400 serious complications for 200 million doses for those of you who aren’t so good at math.
My publisher continues to be happy with the book’s performance. Apparently it has been picked up by Target. I don’t know if that means it will be available at one near you or if it’s just going to be available through their website, but it does mean more exposure. There’s been a bit of a hoorah in the press about Amazon. The majority of their best seller titles for vaccination (one of my categories) are books full of misinformation and downright lies. This means, of course, that a lot of people are looking at the category and perhaps they shall see a new book with a sage green cover and some interesting pen and ink art of a medieval plague doctor and decide to add it to their carts while they are there. It’s all good. I’m not in this to get rich or hit a best seller list, but I do think there’s some good and rational perspectives about our trying times included that might help others sort out what we have to deal with.
I have to get up tomorrow for a walking tour (likely covering things I have already visited) and a boat tour up the Douro to a port winery complete with tastings. I shall wash my hands, wear my mask, and keep my distance while boarding.