Last night, we expanded our social circle in Lisbon by about three fold. Not hard to do, but gratifying nonetheless.

After a day’s work, we went out for early drinks with a few of the Princeton alumni in the area, as the friend we had lunch with last week had very kindly dialed us in to the network here. Before we knew it, a few early drinks had moved on to a late dinner, and we all had a fabulous time throughout.

When everyone at the bar went around the table and introduced themselves, I was impressed and ever so slightly intimidated by the caliber of people there, what they studied and what they do now. If I’d met up with a bunch of UCSC alumni, most people would’ve said, “Ummm, like, I majored in American studies, and now I’m, like, an artist? I like to play guitar… and I wait tables?”

Not so for these folks. There were three people in finance (including one of the most beautifully pregnant women I’ve seen in a long time), one statistics professor who also consults for the EU, and multiple scientists, including a physicist and two nano-technologists, both of whom are at the same university as Gabe. There were two musicologists, the head of a non-profit, and a public prosecutor. And then… there was me. Luckily due to my degree from LSE, I felt like I could hold my head up at least slightly, but still — the roster was impressive.

Despite the well-pedigreed crowd and the fact that most of them had met each other before, the gathering was neither stuffy nor exclusive. Even the thinnest thread of commonality — a (sometimes distant) past in Princeton — was enough to break the ice, and soon we were chatting with everyone as if we were long lost friends. It was great to feel a part of a community, to be surrounded by a bunch of bright, quirky, hugely intelligent people, and to listen as the conversation fluctuated back and forth between Portuguese and English. No matter what their language or nationality, by nature everyone there had experience living abroad, and they all knew what it’s like to be a stranger in a strange land. So they were all extremely welcoming, and made us feel very much at home.

After a while, a bunch of us moved from the bar to a restaurant just up the street. As everyone else has lived here far longer than us, we got the full benefit of their local knowledge, and ended up eating at a place we would’ve never found otherwise. The restaurant was housed in the 25th of April Association, named after the revolution that freed Portugal from the Salazar dictatorship in 1974, and established to keep those ideals alive. Who would’ve thought?!

Of course the history geek in me was fascinated by all this, but the place quickly began to lose its luster when the host took one look at our large group and tried his hardest to turn us away. Oh, we don’t have very much selection on our menu. We have another big group coming, we can’t possibly accommodate you, etc. Only in Portugal would a small restaurant, almost empty on a Friday night, actually try to turn away a big group of patrons. We persisted, however, and after ordering from their admittedly limited offerings,we proceeded to drink and talk some more as we waited for our meals.

This time we were seated with different people than we had been at the bar, all of them Portuguese. Through talking with them, we proceeded to discover a whole new set of fascinating histories and personas. One woman had lived in Angola as a small girl when her father was stationed there during the civil war. Another told us all about growing up as the youngest of ten children, including spending ten years with her uncle in Berkeley. The third talked about the names of her three sons (they axed the name Dominic, as it was the name of the head Inquisitor!) and her love of Scottish folk dancing, claiming that it’s all in the geometry. (I would argue that it’s more to do with not having two left feet and a basic sense of coordination, but OK.) All of them were fascinating, and all of them people we would’ve never met had Gabe’s mom not suggested we look up the Princeton alumni association in Lisbon. So glad that we did.

Soon however, the unaccustomed group interaction and relatively late hour combined with my lingering cold and the lack of a nap that afternoon all caught up with me, and I started flagging well before the food finally arrived. When it did, almost an hour after we’d gotten there, I was more than ready to just leave without finishing my dinner — but of course as soon as I made that decision, the food showed up. It was both overcooked and overrated, but we all enjoyed it nonetheless, tempered as it was by much wine and good conversation.

I made my goodbyes shortly after finishing my meal, but encouraged Gabe to stay on and finish the evening. He so enjoys being surrounded by people that I couldn’t bear to make him leave as well! So I wandered home by myself through the chilly evening, dodging taxis and groups of scantily-clad girls smoking cigarettes outside of bars normally shuttered tight during the daytime, marveling at the way the city comes alive on a Friday night and feeling generally glad to be alive.

Gabe arrived home soon afterwards, and after he’d concocted a homemade hanukkiah out of some birthday candles and a cork, we went to bed, tired but happy. We are both looking forward to getting back next month and pursuing the friendships we started last night.

In the meantime though, there is our trip home, and much cleaning, packing, and traveling to be done before we get there. So without further ado… to the mop!