When I called Gabe’s niece yesterday afternoon to wish her a happy birthday, I ended by telling her that we’d be seeing her again in just three weeks. “REALLY???” she squeaked. “I can’t wait!” That piece of news elicited far more excitement from her than anything else in our conversation, including the description  of what she had planned for her birthday dinner (dinner at a French restaurant that celebrates Bastille Day, naturally.)

Sadly, even her wonderful reaction made it no more real for me. I still can’t conceive of that fact: Three. More. Weeks. And we’re not just going back for a visit this time, either, counting down the precious days til we have to leave again. This time, it’s for good, or at least for the next seven years.

When we had drinks with our friends the other day, they asked what we were looking forward to the most. We gave our pat answers — family, the ocean, cottage cheese, sausages without pork, etc — but I didn’t feel like our hearts were really in it. When we went home in December, all I could think about was what I was looking forward to. Now, I’m more focused on the flip side of that question: what I’ll miss about Lisbon when we leave.

My brief lull in activity continues, which I’m not finding restful as much as frustrating. I always hate this part before you leave somewhere, when the anticipation of leaving builds and builds til you just want to get on that plane and get it over with already. I went through the same thing last summer, albeit stretched out over multiple months.

So yesterday, after I got tired of reading and writing in the flat, I went out for a walk to continue doing those things outside for a while. I didn’t go for a long walk, just up the hill (always up the hill!) to Principe Real, the park with an ancient spreading cedar tree and a lovely cafe in it. I sat at the cafe until the noisy Portuguese guys behind me drove me out, then I sat under the cedar until some noisy and rather smelly non-Portuguese people sat down behind me.

I did some shopping, mostly of the window sort, and generally was a flaneur, with all the time and not a care in the world. I soaked up the sunshine (not too hot, thank God) and the tiles, the little shops and the noisy people, the buses and the cars and the views… all of it. That’s what I want to remember about this place, just the day to day life of it all, not the museums or churches or any of the rest of that.

As I walked home, I was greeted by the waitress at the restaurant on our corner, who had also said hello on my way out. The wife of the restoration guy across the street greeted me as she left his workshop, and asked how Gabe was doing. This is what I will miss the most: the community. We know our neighbors at home, but we can go weeks without even seeing or saying hello to them. Here, our neighbors greet us every single day. They know our routines, and we know theirs — I know the restoration man takes lunch from 2 to 3 PM every day, and his little grandson gets dropped off around 8, then picked up again around 6. This I will miss.

There are many things I will not miss — the constant low din that surrounds our flat, from dogs barking to construction noises; the effort it takes to get groceries; the solitude of the language barrier; the long lines and inefficiency. But the community, I will miss.

Three more weeks. Surreal.