Today I had a conversation with an old Argentinian woman, from Buenos Aires. She told me about the old convent where she went to school, and when she was trying to describe it she was looking for a word and couldn’t find it. It was a word that meant city block, but not really. The word she told me was manzana–it means apple, but it also means city block, and it means a specific type of city block she couldn’t explain.
“One hundred feet square,” she said, mapping it out in the air in front of her with violent hand motions. It’s hard to make a violent square, but she did it. She wanted me to understand, but I couldn’t. So she made a square again, as if to reiterate her point, and went on: It was an old building, like from the 1800s, falling apart. Part was a school, part was a nunnery, and part was a nursing home. She told me about the old people she would see when she went out to the courtyard and the silence she would hear. She said that she liked silence. She said that silence made her think. She said that silence made her think about the metaphysical, about what is life and what is death, and how these things work. She said that she started thinking about all this when she was four, when she first started going to school at the convent.
Maybe that’s a hyperbole, maybe that’s not what happened, but that’s what she said. And I don’t think an old Argentinian woman would lie to me; or, if she did, I probably wouldn’t know about it.