For the past two nights, Gabe and I have gone out for a walk around 5 PM. The weather has been beautiful and warm, not too hot, with a cool breeze blowing to make things tolerable. Both nights, we have met with friendship and adventures of the kind only Lisbon holds, making us grateful for our time here — and very conscious of how little remains.

Saturday night, we walked up and over the hill in search of some of the many festas that go on during the month of June. Typically, nothing was as we expected. The street festival we were looking for wasn’t due to start til 9 PM, which really meant 10:30. When we wandered on to Chiado to see what was going on for this week’s “Chic in Chiado” celebration, we found a bunch of booths just being taken apart. Too early for one, too late for the other.

We did manage to find some stores that had stalls set up on along a side street, where I spent a happy half hour trying on shoes and looking at clothes I can’t possibly afford to buy nor to bring home with us. Alas. I fear I am on a strict diet of window-shopping from here on out.

As we turned for home, we came across one of the things that makes living in a capital city so marvelous. Just as we found last summer, there was a free classical concert in the ruins of the Carmelite convent on the hill. This time it was a brass orchestra, with many impressive tubas and even a gong. We sat on the steps for a good half hour, listening to the orchestra bang away (we kept expecting them to play the Star Wars theme) and watching the swallows swoop amongst the arched marble ribs above us. Thoroughly unexpected, and all the more dear for being so.

Yesterday, we repeated the experience, with the pleasant addition of a stroll through the botanical garden with our French friends and a coffee in the newly restored Principe Real garden. We realized on getting back from Stockholm that our friends here will all be traveling in early July, so this will be our last few weeks to see them. Such a sad reality! Like I used to say as a child: “Why do we always have to say goodbye?” So our mission for the next few weeks — in between visitors, doing as much work as we can, packing, etc — is to spend as much time as possible with our Lisboan friends.

That mission more or less accomplished for the night, we said goodbye to S&S and went back down the hill to Chiado. On our meanderings the night before, we’d seen a sign for an outdoor concert at one of the churches down there. After bumbling our way in to one church right at the end of mass, we finally found the right one (there’s so many churches here!), where a small group of smartly dressed singers were gathering to regale us with song.

They were directed by a graceful dark-haired woman, who struck a small tuning fork on her head and pressed it against her ear before every song. She was aided by a small child sitting on the steps nearby, who added her own enthusiastic tones to the chorus of “Hallelujah,” and bowed when the small crowd clapped. Each time she did so, her stuffed dog came free of her arms and rolled down the steps, causing her to interrupt her gracious show of thanks with a dash down the steps to retrieve him. Comic relief indeed.

So in about twenty-four hours, we saw two very different but equally beautiful outdoor concerts, both of them free. We wandered around the overgrown paradise of the botanical gardens with good friends, and drank a coffee in a sun-drenched park. We saw sun-burnt tourists with maps, and tiny Portuguese ladies stopping to hear the music on the way home from the store. We reveled in the ridiculous exuberance of our host town, the shabby elegance, the humor and kindness of strangers.

All in all, we have decided that while Stockholm was very beautiful and felt much closer to America than Portugal does, nonetheless we are glad to have lived here. Besides the fact that our much-reduced income has taken us a lot farther here than it would have in Sweden (and that the winter there would have most likely done me in!), I think our experience here in Portugal has been much richer and warmer, both literally and figuratively.

True, you can buy eighty different kinds of tomato in the grocery store in Sweden. Here, we can only occasionally find tomatoes at our local corner store, and those are usually of the overripe and wilted variety. But the owner greets us as old friends, comments on the weather, and still asks after my mom nearly three months after she was here. That might not be enough to get me by forever, but for this year, it is more than enough.

To have experienced a very different culture — one where even the simplest conversation sounds like a passionate argument, where dinner starts at 10 PM, where the World Cup team gets a huge concert by way of send-off, and where the music is too beautiful to contain within four walls — those things are worth a little less variety at the grocery store. They’re even worth the lack of cottage cheese. Almost.

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