On Craigslist, 3BR Unfinished, Future Husband Upstairs

Nicole Basile and Stephen Smith were married March 10 at the Brooklyn Winery.

Nicole Parisina Basile has long cherished the love story of her maternal grandparents: They met in the early 1960s as teenagers in an apartment building where they were tenants in Greenwich Village. And after two years of trysts on the fire escape and sneaking out to nearby dance halls, they were married and are still very much in love.

Ms. Basile didn’t really expect the same thing to happen to her when she moved to a four-story apartment building in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, in 2010 — at least not consciously.

“Who knows,” said Ms. Basile, 30, a doctoral student in Latin American and Iberian cultures at Columbia University, whose main goal at the time was to find an affordable place. “But from what I remember, it wasn’t like that.”

“My grandparents were so young when they met,” she added. “My path has been wildly different in that sense.”

Yet in another sense, their romantic routes have been similar. Ms. Basile was pleasantly surprised when she encountered Stephen Decatur Smith, an assistant professor of music history and theory at Stony Brook University, in the apartment above hers in Crown Heights. And also like her grandmother, Ms. Basile would go on to charm her new neighbor with beauty, brains and a passion for Latin American food and culture before falling in love with him.

Her grandmother Lucia Armendariz, now 70 and living with Gonzalo Armendariz, 77, in Rocky Point, N.Y., remembers the first flutterings of what would become the love story of her granddaughter and Mr. Smith, now 38.

“After Nicole moved into the place in Crown Heights she gave a party” — a Thanksgiving feast for friends that would become an annual tradition — “and I went to check the turkey,” Ms. Armendariz said. “Steve came down from his apartment, and he kept looking at her. She looked beautiful, like Gina Lollobrigida. He couldn’t take his eyes off her.”

For Ms. Basile and Mr. Smith, who grew up in Delmar, N.Y., the romantic road forward would be marked with scholarly texts rather than stolen cha-cha sessions in Manhattan. Mr. Smith holds two bachelor’s degrees, two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. The master’s degrees, in music performance and music history, are from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester. The Ph.D., in music history, is from New York University, which he was still working on when Ms. Basile moved to Crown Heights.

Ms. Basile is also a decorated academic. She graduated from New York University in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature, then finished a master’s degree in the same subject at the university in 2011. In 2020, she expects to complete her doctoral degree at Columbia, where she has already earned a master’s degree in Latin American and Iberian cultures.

The couple’s academic leanings connected them momentarily even before they shared the same apartment building. In December 2009, N.Y.U.’s comparative literature program had a party. Mr. Smith, whose music studies overlapped with some of the department’s classes, was there. So was Ms. Basile, who had a boyfriend at the time.

“I was getting ready to leave, and I saw this guy with cute glasses,” Ms. Basile said. “A mutual friend introduced us.” Nothing came of that meeting.

Six months later, she and her friend Emily Nonko were looking for a New York apartment with a third friend, Brigid Mitchel. “We had some misfires, like we found a place in Park Slope that we loved, but it fell through,” said Ms. Nonko, a real estate writer in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. Then a cheap three-bedroom in Crown Heights popped up on Craigslist. “There were no pictures,” she said, “but we went to check it out the same day.”

What they found was a wreck. “It was still under construction,” Ms. Nonko said. The owner of the building ferried his prospective tenants upstairs, where Mr. Smith was living with two former college buddies, to give them a sense of how the apartment would look post-renovation.

Mr. Smith and Ms. Basile locked eyes in instant recognition. “It was such a funny, strange coincidence,” Ms. Nonko said. Both Mr. Smith and Ms. Basile also remembered each other’s names. And it was not the only coincidence that made the place seem right.

The Crown Heights building is off the southernmost corner of Grand Avenue. Decades earlier, Ms. Basile’s parents, Marilú and Jorge Basile, met and fell in love in a building on the northernmost corner of Grand Avenue. Gonzalo Armendariz, the grandfather, had opened one of New York City’s first tortilla factories, Mexi-Frost, there in 1975 with Ms. Armendariz’s mother, Parisina Alonso.

Ms. Armendariz remembers a young Argentine stranger casting a spell over her daughter, then 21, at Mexi-Frost in 1985: “Marilú was working in the factory, and Jorge came in. I was in the office. She ran in and said, ‘I think my husband just walked into the receiving area.’”

Mr. Basile was newly arrived from Argentina. He was carrying 10 pounds of Argentine beef, hoping to become a wholesaler for Mexi-Frost, which was expanding into foods beyond tortillas. “She made us invite him to dinner that night,” Ms. Armendariz said. “They hadn’t even known each other 24 hours.”

Less than a year later, they were married.

Marriage was not on Ms. Basile’s mind when she moved to Crown Heights, though she was by then older than her mother and grandmother were when they married. She had broken up with the boyfriend from the N.Y.U. party but was in no hurry to find a new one. And Mr. Smith was too preoccupied with finishing his Ph.D. to invest a lot of time in dating. But Ms. Basile’s presence proved hard to ignore.


“Nicole is beautiful and brilliant,” he said.

The Thanksgiving party was his introduction to Ms. Basile’s culinary skills. “Nicole was prepping cranberry sauce for the party and she knocked on my door and said, ‘Hey, try this,’” Mr. Smith recalled. “I was like, ‘This is great, where did it come from?’” She had made it from fresh cranberries.

But even before Mr. Smith and his roommates ventured downstairs for Thanksgiving, he had already been plotting ways to impress Ms. Basile. In one instance, he asked his N.Y.U. adviser, Jairo Moreno, who is from Colombia, what wine he should bring to a woman who was part Argentine. (Mr. Moreno recommended a rioja and a malbec that earned the thumbs up of Ms. Basile and her grandmother.) Weeks later, he secured tickets to the kind of show that perhaps only a pair of academics would appreciate.

“It was a staged production of Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis,’” Mr. Smith said. “I thought it was perfect for a comp-lit gal.” It was. By Christmas, Mr. Smith and Ms. Basile were a couple.

Ms. Basile didn’t have to knock on the ceiling or a heating pipe to get Mr. Smith’s attention the way her grandmother did to rouse Mr. Armendariz in 1961. But she was just as fully swept up in her short-distance love affair.

“There are all these wonderful surprises with Steve,” Ms. Basile said. “Like he has this incredible sensitivity — we’ll be watching a movie or something and I’ll look over and see that he’s crying.”

In 2014, after years of romantic interludes lit by desk lamp and littered with theses, Ms. Basile’s lease was coming up for renewal.

“By then it was pretty clear that they wanted to have their own space,” Ms. Nonko said. She and Ms. Mitchel finished out the lease, while Ms. Basile and Mr. Smith found a place together in another Crown Heights building.

On Dec. 16, 2016, the day before their anniversary as a couple, Ms. Basile had been writing a paper all day and into the evening in their new apartment when Mr. Smith asked if she could take a break at midnight for Champagne. She was expecting a low-key anniversary toast, but Mr. Smith had a better idea.

“It was midnight and he was getting the Champagne, and he said, ‘Why don’t we play the music ball?’” she said. Years earlier, Ms. Basile had given him a wooden sphere that, when wound with a key, plays a tune from “The Magic Flute,” a favorite opera. Ms. Basile grabbed the ball off a bookshelf. As she was about to wind it up, she found, around the key, an Art Deco ring from the 1930s that Mr. Smith had bought at Erie Basin, a Brooklyn shop Ms. Basile loves.

“I was so surprised,” she said. As “The Magic Flute” played, Mr. Smith proposed. She said yes instantly.

On March 10, Ms. Basile and Mr. Smith were married before 154 guests at the Brooklyn Winery, not far from where they fell in love. Ms. Basile, in a full-length fitted lace dress with a high neck from Shareen Bridal, walked down the aisle with her father. Mr. Smith’s sister, Heather Hussar, who became a marriage officiant via the City of New York for the occasion, led a short ceremony punctuated by three poetry readings. (One, “Dos Palabras,” was read in Spanish and English.)

Just after the ceremony, Mr. Smith and Ms. Basile mingled with family and friends as the Respect Sextet, the band of his former roommates, played selections that included “Hello Mary Lou” and “Campiña,” an Afro-Cuban jazz number with cha-cha leanings.

The newlyweds had been planning a first dance post-dinner to the soul hit “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long,” played by a D.J., but the lure of “Campina” proved too enticing. Mr. Smith cut in to his wife’s dance circle and the couple showed off what looked like well-practiced moves to cheers and wolf whistles.

Later, Ms. Armendariz pointed out that her granddaughter and Mr. Smith were clearly made for each other. Also that it pays to believe in serendipity, especially in New York apartment buildings. “You never know when you’re going to meet somebody and your life will change,” she said.

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