My expected crowd for my Walmart movie showing did not materialize, but instead of feeling sad, I’m grateful. I got to spend the time before the movie getting to know Marius and Marta. They are a couple who live in my building who moved to Philadelphia 6 years ago from Argentina. They arrived promptly at 8 pm, saying that they’ve learned since moving here that in the United States, you must be on time. As we waited fruitlessly for the rest of the expected crew, we spent time learning about each others lives. They used to live in a large apartment in the center of Buenos Aires, with a terrace covered with trees and plants. They didn’t describe it to me, but I imagine it with tile and wood floors, many books and furniture made from teak. They moved to Philly because both of their children live in the area. They spend their days entertaining their granddaughters and tutoring their students how to improve their Spanish.
Marta noticed my christmas cactus, its healthy sprawling leaves and asked my secret, as hers is puny and frail. I admitted I had no tricks, other than moving it away from the window in the winter and letting the soil dry out before adding more water. She said she’d give that a try.
They told me how frustrated they become when they can’t express themselves in English the way they can in Spanish. How they don’t like to speak up in building meetings, because they don’t if they’ll be able to find the right words. Marius told me about a day when he was standing at 19th and Walnut waiting to cross the street. A car came careening around the corner, just as he was crossing. He let out a stream of enraged words and realized seconds later that they had come out in Spanish, expressing nothing to the driver of the BMW who had almost flattened him. I tried to assure him that tone and volume can convey just as much meaning as the words themselves, and he did agree.
As they described their lives in Buenos Aires, with movie theaters that are always full, restaurants that are always open and a night life that makes New York look like sleepy village, I could see them there. I could see them young and elegant, strolling through open air markets or gracefully dancing to the music of horns and guitars.
As they were leaving, Marta made certain that I wrote down their apartment and phone number, so that I could call or stop by. In case I need a cup of flour or sugar, she said. It was a deeply pleasing to spend time talking to them, and despite our differences in age, language and culture, I now count them as friends.