So we continue our string of Lasts in Lisbon. Sundays are a special thing here in Portugal, at least for an American accustomed to the all-out pace of modern life, which stops for no man, God, or weekend. Here they actually believe in taking a day of rest. Everything is shut down on Sundays, the streets are empty, people go to their family’s house to have long, leisurely lunches with their loved ones (that’s how I’ve imagined it anyway — perhaps they just sit by themselves all day and watch TV.)

We arrived on a Sunday, which in hindsight was bad timing on our part, since it meant that we (or at least I) got a very skewed sense of the town when we first landed. The streets looked desolate and deserted, the trash hadn’t been picked up since Friday night, the bathrooms in our temporary grad student housing hadn’t been cleaned in two days, and no restaurants or stores were open. I was none too happy about all of this.

Since that unfortunate first Sunday, we have come to cherish our domingos as a day off, when we have the streets to ourselves and the museums are free til 2 PM.  Every other day of the week, the frenetic pace of the city bears down on you as if to say “Look how busy we all are, rushing to and fro! What are you getting done today?” But from the minute I wake up on a Sunday, I feel relaxed, as there’s no pressure for me to accomplish anything because no one else is doing anything either. Everything seems slower, more chilled out. Sundays are a good thing in Portugal.

To make the most of our last one here, we plan on going to a museum we haven’t been to before, and then stopping to eat our final pasteis de Belem — which will be a very difficult goodbye indeed.

In that same category, we said goodbye a couple of our Portuguese friends last night, J and A, those with the new baby. They invited us out to A’s birthday party, which was held at J’s mother’s house in a beachfront town called Costa de Caparica, across the river to the south of Lisbon. Even though the town itself is only about a fifteen minute drive away, to get there without a car required a metro ride to the bus stop, then a very crowded and noisy 45 minute bus ride to Costa. All of which served to completely ruin the good mood I was in earlier in the day.

I soon cheered up again when we got to our friends’ house, with their young son in my arms and their beautiful backyard blocking out all thought of busy buses and city streets. We spent an hour or so with our friends before the rest of the guests started showing up, including both of their families and a few of their other friends. It was wonderful to meet everyone in our friends’ lives, and even more so to be included in such an intimate and warm gathering.

Of course everyone was speaking Portuguese, but as soon as Gabe explained to people that I understood it, they had no qualms with including me in the conversation and letting me respond in English, which everyone more or less understood. In this manner, I managed to get through an entire party without once making an ass of myself, or even feeling left out at all.

If we’d gone to a party like that when we first arrived, I would’ve felt hugely uncomfortable, and probably wouldn’t even have wanted to go. But yesterday, I didn’t even give it a second thought — I was far more concerned with how long it would take to get there, and didn’t care at all that I’d be surrounded by people with whom I didn’t share a language. Goes to show how far my comfort zone has expanded this year.

In fact I felt more comfortable than I do at most English-speaking parties, because at least I had an excuse for being my usual introverted self. Every time Gabe explained to someone that I don’t speak very well, I thought to myself, “Wow I wish he could do that for me at every party — just tell people I don’t like to talk! It works like a charm!” Alas, it’s a little antisocial when there’s no language barrier. Perhaps we can just pretend I’m Russian or something…

After bidding a very sad adios (or ate breve, I hope) to our friends, we got a ride back to Lisbon with A’s sister, her boyfriend, and a whole freeway full of Lisboans returning from a day at the beach. I didn’t mind the traffic though, as anything beat being in the bus again. As we crossed the April 25 bridge, we had an amazing view of the sunset over Cascais and Belem to our left, and the twinkling, sparkling city with the castle presiding over it to the right.

That first Sunday, all I wanted to do was go home. Last night, looking out at the city putting on her sparkles for a big Saturday night, I caught myself wondering what it would be like to stay, to make a real life with these people, this place. I know it could never happen, but just like when you’re a house guest, it’s always better to leave while you still wish you didn’t have to.

In my opinion, that’s an excellent note to leave on.