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Yesterday, we took advantage of the fact that most museums here are free til 2 PM on Sundays. We went the coach museum in Belem, which was really just an excuse to get another round of pasteis for the girls, who are — not surprisingly — huge fans. Candy confections of carriagery, lunch outside, and beautiful creamy pastries to follow. What’s not to love?

Last night, we went back to J’s flat for a goodbye barbecue, as he is leaving Lisbon on Wednesday. How the year has flown… and so our goodbyes begin already.

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Yesterday we made our second less than successful excursion down to the Mercado da Ribeira. The first was the weekend before last, when we went to check out the collector’s faire, only to find a few guys packing up their coins and stamps. We got a late start again yesterday, and we didn’t make it down there until nearly 1:30 PM. By that point most of the food stalls had packed up, and the fish ladies were hosing down their counters and throwing out their ice.

Note to selves: go to the market in the morning.

But we found a few hardy souls still optimistically manning their vegetable stands, all of which offered some very impressive wares. There were pears the size of my two fists held together, perfectly shaped apples, massive orangey green ridged squash, and boxes of loose strawberries, perfectly red and shiny. I saw zucchini that were a foot long and as big around as my arm, and bunches of green onions, a rarity here, with dirt still clinging to their roots.

We settled on one promising stand, where the lady was clearly trying to get rid of some of her wares before closing down for the day. As we made our selections (carefully, since we’d be carrying them for a while), she pressed a ripe avocado on us — oh, twist my arm! — and couldn’t resist tucking a spray of mint and cilantro into our bag as we were paying. Two full bags of extremely fresh fruit and veggies for less than ten euros. Amazing.

At our request and gesticulations, she also cut a hunk off of a huge armful of what turned out to be a very bitter leafy green, which almost looked like mustard. We cooked it up for dinner last night, along with a chicken roasted by Gabe and some potatoes and parsnips that we also picked up at the market. It was a Sunday roast on Tuesday, but no less delicious for it.

Bootie in hand, we headed back towards the Elevador da Bica, as our trip to the market had largely been an excuse to ride it back up the hill. We had just missed one departure, but we weren’t in too big of a hurry, so we took our seats and waited amicably for the return journey.

The elevadors may save you wear and tear on your knees, but they certainly don’t save you time. On the way down, we’d asked the driver when the next trip down the hill would be, and without lifting his eyes from his paper or his cigar from his mouth, he gruffly replied, “Ten or fifteen minutes.” Despite his surliness, I turned around to say thank you, just so I could get another eyeful of his fine thick mustache, which curled up just slightly at the ends. I decided if I was an elevador driver, I would also grow such a mustache, and sit there smoking cigars between runs up and down the hill. That would be a fine life indeed.

To my great disappointment, our return conductor was not the mustachioed gentleman, who was perhaps too busy reapplying wax to his facial hair. Instead we were conducted up the hill by a much more pleasant lady, accompanied by an elderly Portuguese man with a curved scar on his forehead, who kept looking at his watch and blowing air through his mouth impatiently. I thought to myself, Fellow, if you’re in a hurry, you’re in the wrong place for it.

Much less hurried but no less intriguing were the two French tourists who rode up with us. One of them immediately jumped into the front, where she stood taking pictures the whole way up the hill. Her companion was decidedly unimpressed by the whole thing, and instead sat on the bench across from us, where she conducted a murmured, flirtatious conversation on her Blackberry. She only gave an occasional glance out the window of the elevador, which earned her quite a few glares from her more enthusiastic girlfriend. I would’ve been mad, too.

So we creaked our way to the top of the Bica hill, then went on to have lunch at one of our favorite cafes, which overlooks the entire river and the bridge. It is a painfully hip little place, perched on top of the Santa Catarina hill, but somehow they deigned to serve us a funky and very non-Portuguese lunch, with lots of feta cheese in the sandwiches and a few bits of chicken in my otherwise largely carbohydrized salad. (OK that last part is pretty Portuguese, as they do love their carbs here, but otherwise not so much.)

Our walk then continued on a roundabout way home, with of course another stop for coffee and a tiny bite-sized pasteis de nata, crunchy and custardy and oh so good. We compared different tile patterns, we stopped to buy milk at a small corner store, and we oohed over a tumbledown house near the cafe, dreaming about buying it and fixing it up, then opening a bookstore in the retail space underneath. The cherry blossoms were out, the sky was blue, and life was very, very good.

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After a productive morning’s work (and a quick workout for me), we went out into the sunny afternoon for a tour of our immediate neighborhood. We were hoping for something more sedate and less exhausting than the day before, so none of the places we visited were more than fifteen minutes’ walk from our flat. Even within those parameters, our tour encompassed a variety of places and people only possible in a capital city with hundreds of years of history.

We started by taking a stroll around the shabtastic botanical gardens, where we were joined by a flock of noisy green parrots in the treetops and one of equally squawky old Portuguese women. I spotted my first wisteria blooms of the year, and all of the other trees were just on the edge of leafing out and/or blooming, many of them displaying large spiky thorns along with their delicate blossoms. I appreciated the cautionary message: I may look pretty, but I also have sharp edges.

After touring the jumbled botanical history of the Portuguese empire, we sampled a bit of its confectionary history in the 200 year old pasteleria across the street. Confronted with approximately 25 linear feet of sweet sticky goodness, we pointed at a few appealing things and asked the guy to wrap some of them up for us to take home. Or rather, I asked for them “to arrive” (chegar) instead of “to go” (levar), but the man understood what I meant, and waved away my apologies at not being better able to express myself. Unlike some countries, the Portuguese seem to be extremely tolerant of tourists running elephant-like through their language. I think they are just appreciative when you speak it at all.

Next, we took a stroll through the antique tile store down the street, ogling the stacks of tiles dating as far back as the sixteenth century and laughing over some of the antiques they had for sale. A huge wooden door for 3000 euros? No problem! Cheap at the price. I even managed to hold my own with the tiny and very chatty lady working there, although judging by her greetings as people walked into the store, she was perfectly content to chatter away at you in any number of languages. Despite my assurances that we were just looking, she insisted on holding various tiles up against the wall to show us how they can be combined, almost dropping them in her enthusiasm. Luckily, just then a crew of French tourists came in to the store, so we were able to extract ourselves from her attention before she had to buy any of her own broken or chipped wares.

Continuing on, we took a peek at the view from the mirador, then dove into the back streets of Barrio Alto in search of supplies. There we bought vibrant bouquets at a tiny florist shop crammed with blossoms and colors, followed by two kinds of pumpkin jam from a gourmet food store nestled in between shuttered bars and nightclubs. (After debating the difference between the two jams with the guy working there in both English and Portuguese, we solved the question by simply buying both.) Last, we stopped at a fruteria to fill a bag with fresh fruit and veggies for dinner, then turned for home.

On the way, I noticed that the doors to the ornate Sao Roque church were open, so we ducked inside. There we admired the various elaborately decorated naves, including one made entirely of lapis lazuli and marble, which was built in Rome, consecrated by the Pope, then dismantled and reassembled stone by stone in Lisbon. What can I say — there was a lot of wealth rolling around here in the hey day of the empire.

So ended our tour of the neighborhood, delicious and widely varied in both taste, sight, and personalities. Best of all, I managed to convey all of our needs in adequate if not 100% grammatically correct Portuguese. Since Gabe handles most of my interactions outside of the gym and the grocery store, this was a great opportunity for me to test my Portuguese skills, and I was surprised to find them up to the task. A rampant success, all around.

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The great thing about longer-term guests is that you don’t have to explore everything all at once — unlike with my half-brother last month, when we fit the entire city and parts of the surrounding area into four days of non-stop walking. When you aren’t under pressure to give a condensed capsule of experience though, you’re more at leisure to wander and explore, and even go home for a while if that’s what you feel like doing.

Yesterday we explored the fancy shopping district of Chiado, where you can find all manner of odd places to peruse. Right down the street from the gigantic H&M I raided last week, we came across a minuscule booth of a shop selling beautifully crafted leather gloves, or luvaria, which has been there since 1925.

On the next block over, we passed a store selling Geox air shoes and a fancy Parisian boutique, then stopped for a coffee in the ornate and multi-colored interior of A Brasileira, the favorite haunt of my homeboy Fernando Pessoa and all his myriad personalities.

After browsing through my favorite 500-year old bookstore and a place down the street that sells reproductions of vintage postcards, soaps, and even cans of sardines, we found a tiny old coffee and candy store tucked between two more overpriced designer stores. As soon as we started talking coffee in serious terms, the old man working there perked right up, clearly appreciative of a break from the candy-buying hordes he’d been helping all day. (Easter candy is appearing in all the stores now, and true to their overzealous religious holiday form, the Portuguese are already stocking up in a serious way.)

While the coffee talk continued, I perused the candy, displayed in rows and rows of bins all along the counter and up and down the walls. On offer were at least twenty different kinds of chocolate covered almonds, all with different colored and flavored coatings on the outside, ranging from Easter pastels to a mottled brown one that promised to be cinnamon (or shin, although I don’t think that would be as appealing.) There was also a bin of ornately decorated licorice bits, and case after case of chocolate, bars and bits and other dark brown delicacies.

The man’s expertise on coffee was just as thorough and wide-ranging as their candy selection, and as he packaged up the grounds and poked a hole in the corner to let out the gases, he gave us a history of the beans we were buying. Until independence, you could only get coffee grown in the colonies, which explained the array of beans on offer from such exotic places as Sao Tome and Cabo Verde. They could get other kinds after independence was declared, but these were the older and more traditional Portuguese coffees. I was blown away — history and good coffee, all in one sweet-smelling, chocolate-drenched place! I could’ve died happy right then.

That evening, we added to the pleasure of our palates by visiting our now-regular local wine bar down the street. Again, the Brazilian waitress greeted us with pleasure and kisses on the cheek, and we gladly seated ourselves outside in their small back patio. As we discovered the place in January, we have long looked out their back window at the tree-covered patio and yearned for the return of the long, warm Lisboan evenings we had when we first got here. For the first time, the mild night allowed us to sit at one of the small wooden tables, softly illuminated by with a tea light lantern on the table and a rope of Christmas lights around the outside of the small graveled seating area.

We asked the waitress to surprise us with three different glasses of dessert wines, and she brought us a a red port, a tawny port, and a sauterne to accompany our chocolate mousse and passionfruit cheesecake. This time she was busy with other customers, but when we’d finished and asked for the check, she exclaimed, “Oh no, you’re leaving already? Let me sit and chat for a minute.” But of course, we said, please do!

Among other things, we got a full update on the lovely owner and her new baby. Ebullient as ever, our waitress said that they were doing great, she had seen them the day before, and he was so cute that he warmed her heart, or coraçao. Since she accompanied this statement with a rounded arm that looked like she was holding or rocking a baby, I thought she said he is cute like a snail, or caracol. When I gave this translation to my mom, Gabe laughed at me and said no, not snail, heart! Oh well. I kind of liked the description “cute like a snail.” I think I’ll keep it.

On that high note of misinterpretation, we ended our very strenuous day of coffee shopping and wine drinking, street wandering and chatting. Rough life, my friends, rough life!

Yesterday I reached two new milestones in my Portuguese evolution: I embarked on the conjunctive verb tense, and I bought meat from the butcher. Those might not seem like massive or even remotely related accomplishments, but as I’ve said before, even the most trivial things take on earthshaking importance when learning to negotiate a new culture. So milestones they were.

First, the conjunctive. If you asked me to give you an example of the conjunctive verb tense in English, I would give you my now well-honed, patent pending blank look of incomprehension. In elementary school, I was too busy learning about multiplication tables and boys to recognize the grammatical constructions I was picking up on a daily basis. Speaks highly for the public school system, don’t it?

It wasn’t until I reached high school French that I even learned there was such a thing as the conjunctive. After that initial introduction, there followed six years of French, four in high school and two in college. At the end of that time, I spent three months living with a family in the south of France, taking four or five hours of French a day.

Even after all that, I was still unable to use either the conjunctive or the subjunctive in casual conversation. In my mind, those advanced constructions remained strictly reserved for native speakers. My French-speaking career stopped one quarter shy of the final level in college, and I have always imagined that if I’d just taken that one last class, I would’ve been a master of both the conjunctive and subjunctive voices. Quel dommage!

So when my Portuguese tutor announced a month or so ago that we’d soon be turning to the conjunctive, I was shocked. Already? I thought. But I’ve only been taking lessons for four months! I wasn’t terribly dismayed when that lesson got indefinitely postponed, but then yesterday my Norwegian companion suggested we do some work on the dreaded C-word. OK, here we go!

Again, my tutor reassured us not to worry, it’s quite simple. It’s just the same as the imperative. Oh, great, that’s all settled then. Remember how much trouble I had with the imperative, and all the diagrams and hand-waving that were involved? Yeah, no problem. At all. Little surprise then that I struggled my way through yesterday’s lesson, often forgetting the proper root and having to be prompted by my tutor and fellow student. It wasn’t pretty, but in the end, I came away with the basic concept behind the conjunctive, if not all the details.

Even so, I don’t think I’ll be saying something is imprescendivel (absolutely essential) any time soon, nor will I be expressing any kind of doubt or uncertainty. I will remain strictly concrete and suggestive, not commanding.

Just for the hell of it though, I might try sprinkling in one of my favorite expressions that we learned yesterday: oxala, or God willing. The “x” is pronounced “sh,” so the word becomes “Oshala,” which sounds remarkably like insha’allah. The history geek in me, trying desperately to salvage any kind of knowledge out of this largely incomprehensible lesson, seized on this phrase as a potential remnant of the Portuguese Moorish past. Aha, I thought, something I understand!

I left yesterday’s lesson feeling highly accomplished for having gotten to a point in my Portuguese lessons that it took me six years to reach in French. True, I still can’t carry on a coherent conversation, and my conjugation of the present tense is still pretty shaky at best, let alone more difficult constructs like the past tense or imperfect. But I can now say that I have gotten a good overview of the Portuguese language, a crash course if you will, and I am perfectly content to have reached this point before stopping my lessons this week.

My head well and truly exploded, I gladly headed for home. I knew that my way there would take me by the butcher, but part of me was fervently hoping he’d be closed, as he had been when I’d gone by the day before.

Now, a quick word of explanation about the butcher, who has taken on a much larger significance for me than just a place to buy meat. First of all, I don’t like raw meat. I will eat cooked meat, but only if it bears few reminders as to its bestial origins. I can’t say that this comes from any high moral standpoint, but rather simple squeamishness and germaphobia. It plain grosses me out.

For that reason, but also because of his superior language skills, Gabe has always negotiated the meat buying here. I do the rest of the grocery shopping, but I’ve never trusted my limited Portuguese not to result in offal or brains or something similarly far removed from chicken breasts. However, this doesn’t always prove convenient, because the butchers often close before Gabe comes home from uni. So he’s asked me time and time again to pick up meat or fish for dinner, and always I refuse, saying I’m not comfortable with it.

So there I stood outside of the dismayingly open butcher, knowing full well that it made more sense for me to stop there than Gabe, yet dreading to do so. This particular butcher makes me especially squeamish, as I’d been in there with Gabe before and seen him handle first the meat, then the money, then the change, all without wearing gloves or washing his hands. The germaphobe in me was aghast at the thought, although I’ve never been able to decide what was worse: handling other people’s money and then our meat, or our meat and then our money. Either way, it grossed me out, and I wanted nothing to do with it.

Still, I knew the time had come for me to confront my squeamishness. I’d already confronted the specter of the conjunctive that day, and found it a less formidable foe than anticipated, so why not this? I took a deep breath and dove in.

In the end, I successfully procured for us two gigantic chicken breasts, and even negotiated the butcher’s question of how I wanted them cut. I also managed to take my bacteria-infested change and put it carefully in my pocket without throwing up, although it was a close call. I then picked up my plastic bag of chicken with the same contaminated hand, resisting the urge to hold it as far away from my body as possible, and immediately threw it in the fridge and scrubbed my hands when I got home.

BUT — I bought the chicken. I did not make a fool of myself and die from embarrassment, nor from salmonella. And dinner was delicious. Success all around.

Maybe next time, oxala, I will be able to actually cook the stuff.

To make the most of the beautiful afternoon yesterday, we decided to hop a ferry and venture to the other side of the Tejo river, with the eventual goal of visiting the Cristo Rei statue on the cliffs overlooking the 25th of April bridge. To get from the ferry stop to the statue, we took a long and meandering route along the waterfront and then up and up through the streets of the little town above.

This area proved to be a slower, seedier sibling of Lisbon, with all of the graffiti and shabby apartment buildings and none of the older architecture that makes up for it in Lisbon proper. Once upon a time I would’ve found the crumbling high rises of the town and deserted warehouses by the river ugly. Now I know where to look for beauty.

Find it I did, in the once-grand tiled facades of the riverfront, the enormous stands of fig trees and brambles growing where there once were roofs, the charming addition of graffiti to a tall door carefully framed by seashells. Even in the town itself, there was much to admire — we were particularly taken by the clever addition of mesh cages set between the balconies of one apartment complex, which allowed people to hang their laundry without it falling four stories to the ground. Very inventive.

For lunch, we stopped at a Brazilian restaurant by the river, which had been recommended by the guidebook. We found it nestled in a corner next to another small restaurant named Ponto Final, the final point, which underscored its name by perching a table right at the end of the pier, two feet from the water. I also liked the pedestrian bridge nearby, which may have originally provided access to a boat or ferry from the pier but now led straight down into the water. Doh! Final point indeed.

Our restaurant was equally whimsically named: Atira-te ao Rio, or throw yourself in the river — a suggestion that was luckily not made necessary by their delicious food and great service. There we ate one of the more original meals we’ve had here, which was a huge relief to palates grown used to fried cod, chicken salads (or worse, plain mixed salads), and vegetable soup made of mostly potatoes and cabbage.

Gabe had an excellent fish moqueqa, a spicy Brazilian dish made with coconut milk. I had fennel soup to start, and then a shrimp salad with palm hearts and so much fruit on it that it looked more like my breakfast than my lunch. Hands down the best salad I’ve had here to date, served by some of the friendliest staff we’ve encountered. A wonderful break from our culinary routine.

The entertainment value was also high, mostly provided by the weekend feijoada buffet. There were three big terra cotta pots on the side bar, one each of rice, black beans with pork, and greens, which Gabe told me were kale. On a plate to the right of the pots, there were entire peeled oranges to put on top. It looked delicious, but since I could never do it justice and Gabe couldn’t eat the pork, we contented ourselves with watching our fellow patrons load their plates high.

That included a little girl of about ten years old, who finished one plate of food and then decided that her dad’s feijoada looked good. She was too shy to brave the buffet herself, but the waitress helped her pick out the good bits and put them on a plate for her. The girl looked delighted, and finished every bite, then embarked on a big dessert just as we were leaving.

From the restaurant, we continued up the hill towards the Christ statue, which we thought we could access by means of a huge elevator running up the cliff. When we got there though, the elevator was at the top of the shaft, and our attempts to call it back down to the bottom didn’t result in any movement. We figured it was broken, and embarked on the long roundabout road up (and up and up!) instead. About half way there, we saw some people get in the elevator at the top and take it down to the bottom. Doh! So much for that idea.

We had thought that the elevator was there to provide you access to the Christ statue, but we were still quite far away. On our meandering route up and through the city, we had to stop and ask for directions twice, guided all the way by the gigantic yet unattainable statue just on the horizon. Finally we made it into the park surrounding the statue, where we were rewarded by amazing views of the city and the bridge below us. That’s right, the bridge was below us. I hadn’t realized we’d gained quite that much elevation!

To our relief, the elevator in the statue was working, and up we rode, accompanied by two Portuguese families. One little boy refused to believe his mother when she promised he could see his house from the top of the statue. “No way,” he said, “that’s impossible.” Turned out it was in fact too hazy to see as far as Estoril, where they were from, but I think it must have been a close call.

The view was stupendous, once we finally got up there — the elevator didn’t quite take you to the top, so you had to climb a few flights of stairs and then run the gauntlet of a small chapel and a gift store before you finally got to the viewing platform. (I was sorely tempted by the glow in the dark Jesus statue in the gift shop, but the 18 euro price tag deterred me.) We duly admired the panorama, along with a few more Portuguese families and a flock of nuns, and then returned to the elevator for the long trip back down.

Having achieved our goal, we bussed it back to the ferry stop. We arrived just in time to catch a car ferry, which allowed us to stand outside on the deck alongside a scooter and a Smart car that were making the trip across the river. The Smart looked especially funny, all alone on the huge ferry deck.

We came home long enough to change, relax a bit, and eat dinner before going out for our now-customary dessert and glass of wine at our local wine bar. In case you didn’t see it, the lovely pregnant proprietor found and commented on my blog post about our last visit there, saying that we’d have the welcome of the house next time. We hadn’t been in since then, so I didn’t know if they’d remember who we were.

No to worry though — the Brazilian waitress greeted us as old friends, with a delighted hello, a kiss on the cheek, and the news that the owner gave birth to a big, healthy son last Tuesday. His name? Gabriel. How fitting! She chose some excellent sweet wine for us, light and full of pears, then ran over to the restaurant next door for our desserts.

The place was strangely empty for a Saturday night, but that allowed us to sit and chat with her for a good hour or so til another couple came in. Between their Brazilian accents and the speed of their conversation, I only understood about half of what she and Gabe said, but I didn’t mind. I loved watching the way she talked, her animated descriptions of anything from food and music to to punks in the neighborhood. No matter the topic, her dark eyes lit up, her hands waved, and her sweet musical voice lilted up and down as she warmed to her subject. After we discussed the racism her African boyfriend encounters here, the way people look at him suspiciously as if he’s about to rob them, I noticed tears standing out in her eyes.

Her warmth and enthusiasm were so enchanting to watch that I was startled when she started speaking to me in French (she lived in Paris for eight years before coming here.) In an attempt to include me in the conversation, she asked me about what I do, which only succeeded in completely flustering me. I have a hard enough time explaining what I do in English, and my exhaustion from that day’s walking combined with the amazing wine I’d guzzled far too quickly rendered me speechless, in any language. My reply came out as a hideous hybrid monster of Portuguese and French, and she must have thought me a complete idiot. Oh well.

It was a delightful evening, and contributed again to my growing sense of belonging. We have been to so many cafes and restaurants here where the servers greet their customers as old friends, or sit down and talk with them when things get slow. So when the next customers poked their heads in to ask if they were open, I realized that we were now those people, sitting and chatting with the waitress on a slow, quiet night.

The lesson to be learned for the next time we do this: it takes about six months to really start feeling comfortable and making friends. And yes, that is just when you’re getting ready to leave. But so be it.

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Yesterday’s plans to have lunch with Gabe at the university were foiled by my personal trainer’s determined attempt to turn me into a bowl of Jell-O topped with quivering noodles. I had scheduled a second session with my trainer earlier in the week, but still lifted weights the day before, expecting that my time with him would just be a quick check in and some demonstration exercises on the machines. But oh no — it was a full and very difficult workout, involving much more challenging moves than I had previously been doing, and I was in a whole world of tired after that.

Even more so when my trainer did the full assisted stretching thing afterwards, which we hadn’t done at our initial meeting. All the trainers help their clients stretch at the end of their sessions, pushing and pulling their legs and arms in various ways, and I have often looked on in envy, thinking I would pay someone to do just that part of the workout with me. I’m pretty flexible, so it’s actually difficult for me to stretch adequately without doing a yoga class or similar. But with a partner stretch, I can get a far deeper stretch than I can on my own. The poor guy was quite alarmed by my grimaces throughout the process, but I repeatedly assured him that no, it felt great, and I would let him know if it hurt.

Feeling like nothing more than a big rubber band, I called Gabe from the locker room to cry mercy — I quite honestly didn’t know how I was going to make it back up the hill to our house, let alone onto the tube and up to the university. So instead I went home, ate voraciously, and collapsed for the rest of the afternoon. Whew. All that working out, man — it’s bad for your health. (I won’t even mention how I feel this morning! Suffice it to say that I no longer have abs, only a big fat stripe of ouch that stretches from my hips all the way up to my ribs.)

Luckily, we’d already made plans with our French friends to go out that evening, or else I wouldn’t have left the house for the rest of the weekend. But I didn’t want to flake on them just because of a hard workout and crappy weather — it’s just a flesh wound! — so out we went.

Our goal was once again the Casa da Fernando Pessoa, this time to see a classical quartet. How very cultured of us. To my amazement, not only was this event totally free and ticketless, but there were still plenty of seats available when we arrived five minutes before it started. So on a rainy Friday night, we got to sit in a warm, bright room not ten feet from five very skilled musicians and listened to an hour of incredible music — absolutely free of charge. What’s more, we were in a beautifully converted house that once belonged to the national poet of Portugal. That is definitely something you cannot do in Santa Cruz, or perhaps anywhere short of Washington, DC.

After the music died down, we shook ourselves back into reality, where we faced a difficult decision: eat sushi nearby? Or go back to a crepe place that’s close to both of our houses? The girls wanted sushi, so sushi it was. Oh and PS — it was all you can eat. The perfect refuel after a hard workout and a long rainy walk.

I’m always a little dubious of all you can eat sushi, which is either of such low quality that you don’t really want to eat all that much, thank you, or they skimp you after your first order. However, this time my fears were unjustified. There was a big buffet style table with tray after tray of freshly made delectables, and also a Beni Hana-type cooking table, where you could pick out which raw ingredients you wanted and have them fried up while you were busy stuffing yourself with sushi.

We all loaded and reloaded our plates multiple times, but our efforts paled in comparison to the huge table of teenagers next to us, who luckily sat down right as we were finishing. As they mobbed the buffet table, we speculated that the restaurant would probably lose money on them. They certainly got their fifteen euros’ worth.

Fully replete, we caught a cab back to our neighborhood, and bid adieu to our friends before rolling ourselves back down the hill to our flat. To my mind, any day that involves not only a good workout and a long walk, but also beautiful music, all you can eat sushi, and good friends, qualifies as a definite success.

We had a distinctly unromantic Valentine’s Day, although Gabe claims that bringing me to Portugal for a year is romantic enough. Ha. Nice try, buddy. (Actually, he’s right — we only ever use V-day as an excuse to go somewhere nice, and since this whole year has been full of great dinners, lunches, coffees, etc, well… I’m content.)

Sadly, the most exciting part of our day was when our landlord brought us a futon for our guest room — three days before our first guests arrive. We chose the flat we’re in largely because it has two small but separate rooms, as we wanted to be able to have guests without making them (or us) sleep on the couch. So we have a guest room, which we mostly use as an office.

Luckily, so far we have had no guests, as we have had a very Goldilocks-esque time trying to get the proper furniture for our second room. First, we had a bunkbed. Then, the bunkbed was gone, but we only had a single futon. One was too big, the other too small. But yesterday around noon, our landlord came over with the just right solution: a double futon. He and Gabe unloaded the boxes (ah, Ikea, assembly always required) into our flat and then packed the other smaller futon into the trunk. Meanwhile, I stood watch to make sure no one drove off with his car.

We thanked him profusely, and Gabe then spent the next hour assembling the couch, discovering in the meantime that the kit was short three screws. Of course. But it hung together, and so, nearly five months after moving in, we finally have a double bed in the guest room. It’s remarkably comfy, and the biggest bonus is that it’s bright red — which made it kind of fitting for Valentine’s Day.

By the time this project was done, the afternoon was half way over. All I really wanted to do was curl up on the new couch in the warm office and read, but the day was again cold and wet, and I had been freezing for hours. I knew that a trip to the gym (and more importantly the sauna) was required if I wanted to feel my fingers and toes again.

So down we went to the gym, and I hurried through my workout so that I could finally reach the sauna. Normally I can only handle a few minutes in there, but yesterday I reveled in the baking heat, knowing that it would be the one and only time that day when I would truly be warm. (Again, see earlier comments re: my cold-bloodedness and likelihood of my being a lizard.)

I did feel better after that, and was in fact warm for the rest of the afternoon — at least until we went out into the freezing rain again later that night. Oh well, it was good while it lasted. We ventured out again to have dinner chez a colleague of Gabe’s, which I realize is not the most romantic of Valentine’s Day activities, but we had a great time nonetheless. Gabe discovered that his colleague enjoys cooking; I discovered that he is a voracious and omnivorous reader, so we were both supplied with nearly endless topics of conversation.

Our host is from the Alentejo — the region literally below the Tejo river, which runs through Lisbon — so he treated us to several traditional Alentejan dishes for dinner. For the main course, we had a kind of egg scramble with asparagus in it, served along with excellent red wine, a hard white cheese that was a saltier, drier version of feta, toast with a mixture of olive oil and crushed herbs spread on it, and a salad with olives, feta, tomatoes, and walnuts in it. Dessert was the crowning glory: a bowl filled with a crumbly white cheese in one half, pumpkin jam in the other, and cinnamon and walnuts sprinkled over the top. The contrast of flavors and textures was exquisite, and the perfect end to yet another fabulous meal.

To our great relief, our host very kindly offered to give us a ride home when he dropped his kids off. As it was now quite late, and the rain hadn’t stopped throughout dinner, we welcomed his offer with alacrity. Sometimes, I really miss having a car. So we got home in much greater comfort than we’d left, and went to bed late again, bidding adieu to another successfully social weekend. That’s two in a row now — we’re setting a high precedent here!

Despite the fact that I woke up early yesterday and was tired for most of the afternoon, we ended up having an unexpectedly adventurous day. It was actually sunny, still cold, but not cloudy and raining, so we went out for a “short” walk, mostly to test out my new shoes.

About half a block down the road, I realized that we’d accidentally gotten the smaller of the two pairs of shoes I’d tried on the night before — my toes were hitting the end of the shoe every time I put my foot down. Whoops.

Even so, we prevailed, and made it up to the highest miradouro in the city, the Miradouro da Senhora de Monte. We had always looked at it from other vantage points, but had never made it up there ourselves. Yesterday, it was time — and good Lord, was it a hike! Even now that we’re used to climbing hills, even in my new spiffy hiking shoes, it was a very steep incline indeed. Impressive. As usual though, it was well worth it for the views it afforded, out to the bridge to the left and as far as the squat black cubes of Gabe’s building at university to our right.

We made our way back down, which was remarkably easier than it had been coming up. Many of the restaurants and stores along the way were closed, perhaps because it’s Carnaval weekend, but we were happy to find one small costume store wide open and doing a brisk business. We went in and spent a wonderful twenty minutes trying on all kind of masks and other paraphernalia, eventually settling on a black and gold mask with peacock feathers for me and a red mask with red and black feathers for Gabe. Very fabulous.

By then it was time for our usual coffee stop, so we went back to our other favorite miradouro, the Torel, and sat out on the patio there to enjoy the sunshine and our coffees. The girl working there, while fabulously dressed in a crazy sequined outfit with red Converse, was not all that bright, and when Gabe ordered a cafe au lait and a pingado (espresso shot with milk), both decaffeinated, for some reason she thought he wanted three coffees.

After quite some time, she brought out two black espressos and a cafe au lait. When we tried to explain that we only wanted one other coffee, and that one with milk, she proceeded to leave one of the black coffees on the table, take the other back in, and bring out a pingado as requested. So we still ended up with three cups of coffee. Sigh. Luckily they were all decaf, and only cost a euro each, so at least it was an amusing mistake.

We made it home without further mishap, but didn’t linger long, as we had to go back up to the mall yet again to exchange my shoes. So back we went, exchanged the shoes for the bigger size without a problem, and retraced our steps from the night before… via a stop at another cafe, this time for some bite-sized pasteis de natas and a freshly-baked mini chicken pie for Gabe. We had to refuel, you know — especially since our “short” afternoon of walking had by then turned into yet another four hour excursion, thanks to the shoe mixup. But so it goes.

Once we were finally home, we both proceeded to collapse for a few hours before heading back out a third time. We met up with our Princeton friend and her family for dinner, this time at an Italian restaurant they recommended that was about halfway between both of our houses. We were inevitably the first people there at 8, but as we didn’t get served our mains til nearly 9, by the time we left at 11 the place was jam-packed.

Once again we had a wonderful time with our friends, laughing, eating, drinking wine and limoncello, swapping stories and listening to the two Princetonians reminisce about the good old days. Their two teenage kids joined in their fair share of the conversation too, which always impresses me, as it took me until at least my early twenties til I felt like I had anything to contribute to family banter. But they were just as hilarious and laid-back as their parents, and made me laugh just as hard. It felt so good to be out with friends, and even though our English conversation earned us some curious looks from the other patrons, I truly felt like we belonged. What a fabulous feeling.

We emerged from the restaurant more than 3 hours later, much replete and ready for bed. Outside, the streets of Barrio Alto were just getting started on their Saturday night business, which we usually aren’t out late enough to witness. (My fault, yes, my fault. I have an old lady bed time, I know.)

Even despite the cold, the narrow streets were packed with people drinking, smoking, and partaking in other more nefarious activities. Our friends had told us that they consider it a measure of their hipness when the dealers offer them hash, so I was nervous that perhaps we wouldn’t be hip enough to merit a tout. Sure enough though, before we had even turned the corner from the restaurant, we were solicited, with a second offer a few blocks later. Thank goodness, we are hip. Phew.

That final dubious stamp of approval put an end to a very successful evening. Even as I reveled in the company and the good food though, I couldn’t help but be sad that we will have to leave such wonderful people behind when we go home. This is why I was afraid to make friends here: because we’ll only have to say goodbye. It reminds me of the story my mom always tells me about when I was a little girl, traveling around on my own parents’ sabbatical. I grew tired of making friends and having to leave them behind, so I asked my mom, “Why do we always have to say goodbye?” And I still feel that way now.

But the goodbyes won’t be for some months now, and in the meantime, I hope to have many more dinners like last night’s: long, leisurely, and full of laughter, alcohol, and excellent food.

Yesterday I emerged from my hobbit hole at last, and went out into the world, blinking and trembling at all those bright lights and people. Only kidding. Sort of.

I did go in to the university with Gabe, for lunch and an afternoon of working, theoretically. I was reminded first and foremost of why I don’t do that more often — between writing in the morning, then getting ready, going in on the metro, and eating lunch with Gabe’s colleagues, we didn’t sit down at his desk til past 2 PM. And then left for home again around 5. Highly productive, no?

Luckily, the point of the exercise was not to be productive, but rather to be social. We had a great meal at the student cafeteria we had been to before, where you get bread, soup, one of five main dishes on hand, a drink, a dessert, and a salad bar… all for 4 euros. Wow. And it’s actually pretty good, believe it or not. Not nearly as refreshing as the company, which was very welcome after a week of solitude, but still good.

We then headed back up to the lab and drank coffees out of the dispensing machine in the lounge, which is one of those things where you feed money in and then push various buttons for decaf, no sugar (because strongly sugared is of course the default setting around here), and then choose what type of espresso drink you want — plain, with milk, with chocolate, “latte,” etc. I have a feeling they all taste much the same, but again, it wasn’t terrible, considering the source. And again, it was the conversation that accompanied the plastic cup of coffee that mattered, not the substance itself.

After working for a short while, nothing too strenuous, we walked home as the sun set, enjoying clearer skies and milder temperatures than we’ve had in a while. Our plan was to drop our stuff off, eat dinner at home along with one of Gabe’s colleagues, who was on his way over, then head back out again to see some live blues music our friends had told us about. However, we soon looked at each other and decided that all the fresh air and company had been far too exhausting for all that, so when our friend showed up slightly later than planned, it wasn’t too difficult to convince him of a different plan.

Instead, we had a leisurely dinner at home, and then went out to our favorite local wine bar again, where the owner and waitress now recognize us. We proceeded to have another evening full of excellent wine and a spectrum of desserts, which they bring in from the vegetarian restaurant next door. Our friend had chocolate mousse and a dark red Spanish wine; I had apple and plum cobbler with a dry Madeira (or so I’m told); and Gabe had the passionfruit (maracuja, in Portuguese) cheesecake that they’d been out of last time, paired with a sweet tawny port that was rather yummy.

While our friend chose his own wine, our recommendations were made by the owner, who is beautiful, dark, and very, very pregnant. She answered all our questions in excellent English, spoken in a deep, husky voice, and spent the rest of the time perched on various stools and chairs, talking quietly with her friends and customers. Every time someone she knew came in, which was often, her face lit up and she greeted them in that lovely voice — which only made me want to go there even more so that we can earn the same greeting.

Meanwhile, the quiet, efficient Brazilian waitress bustled about, serving us and the people seated at the table next to us. (There are only four tables in the whole place, two bigger ones and a two-seater in the front, and another two-seater in the back, plus bar stools.) Every time we go in there, I am impressed by how she makes even the most casual of clothing look amazing — last night she was wearing a big oversized turtleneck sweater with black leggings and slouchy boots, her hair twisted up out of her face, no makeup to speak of. But still, her grace as she negotiated the tiny seating area and her gentle, laid-back nature make her quite simply beautiful. Oh, to be Brazilian!

So in the end, we didn’t see live blues, but we did have good conversation, good wine, and yummy desserts. Along with the lunch and an afternoon working around other people, yesterday was a much-welcome dose of human company in my otherwise quiet and introverted week.

An excellent combination, all around.

“Treat history as a springboard, not as an anchor.”

- General John G. Medaris

When I Wrote It

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