Entries in Portugal (6)
Yesterday Michelle and I skipped out of the conference early to go port tasting on the south side of the river (Gaia).
The origin for Port lies in a French-English war more than 300 years ago, when the French embargoed French wine from the English. The desperate English, seeking wine, sailed to the port of Porto, near the Douro wine valley, and bought Portugese wine to fuel their habit. Unfortunately the wine would turn to vinegar during the transit, so some bright spark decided to spike the wine with 20% brandy to preserve it. This is why port is so alcoholic, and also why it is sweet (the brandy is added on the second day of fermentation, stopping the fermentation process while there are still lots of grape sugars in the wine).
We visited Grahams winery, which was established in 1820. Our guide was endearingly enthusiastic, but unfortunately didn't really shut up and just kept on talking about Port and Port making. Finally we got to taste four different Port wines (I preferred the white Port, which I didn't even know existed before). This was strong enough for Michelle to unexpectedly say "In the US they don't even pay lobsters". A comment which, while true, is mystifying, especially as they call lobsters crayfish in New Zealand.
After the Port tasting we slowly worked our way from the Gaia side of the river back to Porto, stopping off at cafes to have beers, especially one nice one which overlooked the river and was set up with deckchairs facing Porto. They put red cordial in my beer.
According to wikipedia, the British naval tradition for drinking Port is that it should always be passed to the left (Port to port), and if someone forgets to pass it one should never ask for it directly. Instead, one should ask "Do you know the Bishop of Norwich?" Anyway in the know will recognise they have forgotten to pass the port and will do so. Anyone not in the know will reply in the negative, at which you can remark "He's an awfully nice fellow, but he never remembers to pass the port."
This talk yesterday was so bad. It was billed as "mathematical modelling of in vivo dynamics of CD4+ and CD8+ Foxp3+ regulatory T cells". It promised so much, but delivered so little. They had some peptide that they wanted to see what it did to regulatory T cells so they injected it, a scrambled peptide or vehicle alone into two mice per group. They then bled the mice each day for sixteen days and did CD4/CD8/Foxp3 staining. The resulting graphs just zig-zagged up and down, with each of the groups being identical. Anyone else would have just concluded that their peptide did nothing, but no, these people did "advanced mathematical modelling" on the data.
They assumed that the data was reliable and each up and down meant that the vehicle was changing the immune response. The said that the fact that all three groups went up and down together made it ultra-reliable (rather than assuming that each day's staining was slightly different). They then noticed a mathematical trend - on those days where the proportion of CD4+ cells that were Foxp3+ went up, the proportion of CD4+ cells that were Foxp3- went down! Completely ignoring the basic mathematical truth that the two populations are also going to have inverse changes because they have to add up to 100% they then said that their model proved that the vehicle treatment caused spontaneous pulses of Foxp3+ T cell proliferation which in turn pulse down the Foxp3- proliferation. They also said that there was a blip of CD8+Foxp3+ T cells on day two, which proved that CD4+Foxp3+ T cells require priming by CD8+Foxp3+ T cells before they can function. I have never seen such a load of tripe! Incidentally, Porto is the home of tripe since 1415 when the citizens of Porto showed their support for Henry the Navigator by supplying his voyage to Morocco with all of their beef, keeping only the cow stomach for themselves to make tripe from. Since then Porto's citizens have been known as triperios (tripe-eaters).
The opening session of the conference was extremely painful - the conference chair decided to do a stand up comedy routine, with sad old jokes about his wife spending lots of his money on shoes while they are in Porto. They then introduced the three winners of "life time achievement in autoimmunity". The first was Georg Wick, for his work on obese chickens. The second was Ruth Arnon for inventing copaxone for the treatment of multiple sclerosis. The chair made a big fuss that she was a woman and had broken "the so-called glass ceiling", which I think is pretty crummy - the glass ceiling is broken when the chair doesn't have to comment on it. The third was the most painful part - the recipient of the lifetime award was Eric Gershwin. The chair got up and introduced him as Georg Wick, a bit embarrassing. He then started a ten minute powerpoint presentation on the life work of Eric Gershwin, including photos of Eric Gershwin with an arrow pointing to him saying "Eric Gershwin" and publications with Eric Gershwin listed as the last author. Despite this, the chair heroically kept up calling him "Georg Wick" for the entire presentation, becoming excruciatingly more painful with each mention. Surely if you research a presentation on a particular person for their lifetime achievement you would remember who it was when you gave the presentation? Eric Gershwin then got up and said "Now I know what the afterbirth of a placenta feels like".
It was so much fun to be able to catch up with Michelle again. Odd to think that it has been years since we went to the Middle East together, and I've only been back to Canberra for one day since then. Also a million thanks to Michelle for suggesting that we just sit and drink beer all afternoon, rather than climb around the city! After lots of days walking, visiting museums, looking at pretty buildings and taking photos it was really nice just to sit back and chill for hours on end...
It is interesting just how much Porto looks like the old town of Guayaquil. I guess more correctly, Guayaquil looks like Porto, since the colonial architecture of South America obviously followed the motherland, even if I visited the colonies first. But more than the architecture, there is another aspect of the city that feels the same, a look of fallen grandeur, a city which once was a world powerhouse, only to decline in importance and size over the ages. It is interesting the influence this has over a city's architecture – cities with constant success, like London or Paris, are constantly growing and rewriting their architectural history. They become a mosaic, with small patches of the city reflecting different periods of growth. Other cities reach their pinnacle and then stop growing. There is no need to build over the old parts of the city, so the city becomes preserved as a single architectural unit reflecting the dominant style at the peak. For the cities at their peak during the conquest of the new world, they actively retracted in size with the loss of the colonies. This explains the state of slight decay of all the beautiful old buildings, after the city no longer had the resources to even preserve what it once build, let alone expand on it. So you get poor families living in the most beautiful but run down areas, old clothes hanging out of the windows to dry, amazing facades but no flooring left.