After a week of stocking up, preparing, and finally hosting our very small Thanksgiving dinner, our Saturday was a much-needed day of recovery. As Gabe said, it took about the same amount of effort for 5 people as it would’ve taken to for 20. Ah well.

I dubbed yesterday “Black Saturday,” since the day after Thanksgiving is after all the traditional day to start your Christmas shopping — except ours was all pushed back by a day. I can never handle the crowds and chaos on Black Friday anyway, so this was one holiday tradition I was happy to celebrate on our own, without suffering the early morning wakeup or the crowds pushing and shoving to get a bargain.

Bargains were few and far between on our meandering stroll through two of the nearby neighborhoods, but we did find some beautiful small boutiques in trendy Chiado, and some cheap tchotchkes and souvenirs in touristy Baixa. We didn’t actually buy very much, but contented ourselves to wander down new streets and browse through small stores and galleries tucked away in between giant chains and tourist traps.

After a stop at the grocery store (it felt strange to be buying food when we had so much already in the fridge!), we made it home just in time for the rain to start. There we found two of our neighbors sweeping up the huge drift of feathers that had randomly been dumped on our street during the night. We took this to be a good post-Thanksgiving omen, as it looked like someone had plucked a turkey right outside our door (although I suspect it was someone getting rid of old pillows):

The rest of the afternoon was spent eating leftovers and watching various movies on TV, which is a much more enjoyable experience here due to the lack of ads. I think this was officially our first lazy winter day in this flat — a day of curling up on the couch, reading, watching TV, and relaxing. We’ve spent many a wintry weekend afternoon like that in our Santa Cruz house, but so far we’ve been too busy at the weekends to really take any downtime. It made for a nice change!

We didn’t spend the whole night on the couch though. Around 8:30, we gathered ourselves together and dove back out into the chilly air to see another classical concert at the same church where we had heard Haydn played so beautifully a couple weeks ago. I almost didn’t want to go, as I was still exhausted from the night before, and slightly apprehensive that this concert wouldn’t live up to the first one. But again, when else will I have the choice between sitting at home on the couch on a Saturday night and going to hear classical music played in an ornate 16th century church? Not next year! So I rallied, and up the hill we went — again.

This concert was music by Mendelssohn for organ and choir, played in honor of his 200th birthday. Despite the beautiful surroundings and the quality of the musicians, it was not nearly as transcendent an experience as the Haydn had been. That was mostly my fault, as something about the organ music combined with the faint scent of incense in the air made me automatically go into church mode. I had to fight the urge to stand up every time the organ started, and then try as I might, I simply could not focus on the music. Instead I spent the time spacing out, daydreaming, and wondering when it would be over — just as I did during the few times we went to church with my dad as kids. We didn’t even go that often, but apparently the habits are deeply ingrained in me nonetheless!

The choral pieces met with much greater success, at least in terms of my attention span. The last piece was by far the best, with a tenor singing “Ave Maria” along with the organ and the rest of the choir, all of them perched up in the choral loft. One could almost imagine his voice as a solid substance, combining with the soaring birds of the sopranos to float up and over our heads along the ornately painted ceiling, lighter than the heavy, mortal air we breathed below. Whereas the Haydn had lifted me out of my seat and my body, leaving me floating somewhere up near that ceiling myself, this time I stayed rooted to the ground, looking upward in wonder.

The advantage of remaining firmly on solid ground was that I was better able to observe our fellow audience members. The lights had all been dimmed at the previous concert, but even so, my eyes had remained closed so as to better appreciate the music. This time, the lights of the church were left on, and helpfully supplemented by bright spots shining directly in my face. Not so great for losing yourself in the music, but better for watching other people.

As I looked around, I realized that this was a transcendent experience of a different kind from the previous concert: this transcended the barriers separating me from the other audience members. Even though we had very little language or lifestyle in common, we were all sitting there on a Saturday evening, having paid the same amount, listening to the same incredible music. People had their eyes closed, or their heads cocked, or a small, secret smile on their face — just as I did.

During that hour, we all spoke the same language, a language that people had been speaking and hearing for the past 200 years. This, along with that tenor’s voice and the amazing details of the church we sat in, made postponing my bedtime for a little while longer entirely worth it.

I’m afraid that wintry Saturday nights in Santa Cruz will never be the same again.

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