Carol and I have gone to see seven movies in the last five months-seven times our normal rate of movie-going-for several reasons:
The movie theater with twelve screens is two blocks from our home in Santiago.
They have two for the price of one days.
We do not mind seeing movies after they have been out for a couple of months.
Cable TV in Chile is almost completely Spanish and the accents on BBC News get old faster than you would think.
The movies are in English with subtitles in Spanish.
Actually, the first four do not matter much. It is all about #5. The movies are in English, so the tables are turned.
We have been living in a country where 99% of the population speaks Spanish. I am solidly in the 1%.
After I had worked on my Spanish for a few weeks, we were at an outdoor market pretending to know something about the fish at which we were looking. I clearly asked, "Cuanto cuesta?" (which means, "How much?") and got the response, "What part of the States are you from?" I was not wearing an American flag pin, a USA T-shirt, or a backwards baseball cap. What's the problem?
After two months I mustered up the courage to go to a Subway Sandwich Shop. I answered every question, but came home with a sandwich that was not at all like what I wanted.
A few weeks ago I felt like I was making progress. I was having a fine conversation in Spanish with the church caretaker about the weather and our families only to be interrupted by the church administrator saying, "You do know she's asking you to move your car."
But when we are at the movies, I'm Einstein. I understand everything the actors are saying. I laugh two seconds before anyone else. A couple of times I have been the only one laughing-which indicates poor work by the translator. (Sometimes the crowd laughs and I don't know why, but this is rare.)
I am the one who knows that the subtitles tone down the swear words. Matthew McConaughey did not say "Cielos!"/"Heavens!" when his spaceship crashed inInterstellar. If the film is not that good (Jersey Boys) I focus on the subtitles and learn a little Spanish.
If the theater would provide a translator I could share my knowledge as a U.S. citizen. I could explain that Interstellar is accurate. Our space program is close to sending spaceships through worm holes to other galaxies. All of our grandmothers look like Jane Fonda in This is Where I Leave You. Our teenagers are as smart as the ones in Fault in Our Stars. Our marriages are pretty much like the one in Gone Girl. Men in the United States often leave women like Keira Knightly for no good reason similar to Begin Again.
Most of my attempts at being bilingual have not gone well. I hiked in the Andes with seven-year-old Armando to have him help me with my Spanish, but he insisted on sharing his knowledge of Spiderman. I performed a wedding in English before a congregation in which 2/3 of the crowd spoke no English. Carol and I then shared a table at the reception with three couples who do not speak English and had already listened to me for too long. You don't really believe that only 9% of the world speaks English until you can't tell the repairman that you didn't pour water on the carpet and the leak must be coming from somewhere.
Not knowing the language has been good for me. I have learned to treasure the moments beyond language. Carol and I went to a classical concert and tried to follow the conductor's introduction. I believe he said, "Our solo violinist is really good. She played with her first rabbit when she was six years old. She and her four brothers played duets. She obtained her driver's license from the Julliard School in New York."
I was lost until the orchestra began to play. They played Mozart with a sadness that made you want to cry without knowing why. They played Bach with anger and hope. They played Vivaldi with joy deeper than any description of joy; as though Vivaldi had just seen the Peanuts characters dance for the first time.
The music helped us experience something bigger and better than what can be described. Sometimes the church speaks a language that many do not understand. We need to offer moments beyond language, and point to God who defies explanation. We have to open our hearts to a hope beyond words.