Of Churches and Chard

Whenever I visit a new city, I immediately search for the cartoonish tourist maps flitting around the hostel to identify two key destinations: big churches and farmer’s markets. This, I’ve realized, is an odd habit for a few reasons. I am solidly agnostic and, despite occasional, misguided fits of culinary effort, can’t cook to save my life. What’s more, my usual approach to exploring a new place is to intentionally avoid programming my sightseeing, and to instead buy a metro pass, a notebook, and a sandwich before promptly getting lost. Yet, even on trips when I plan little else, I always find myself noting down coordinates where I can find solace in the solemn naves of a cathedral or the leafy chaos of a market.

On a trip to Paris recently, I found myself chasing my old habit. The first morning I woke up in the City of Light, I ran to Sacré Coeur Cathedral and watched the snow fall over the cityscape as the clouds warmed into dawn. On my way back home, I couldn’t help strolling—awkwardly, my chicken-legs pale in my athletics shorts—through the center of an African street market. The tents were lined with intimidating strings of meat and cornucopias of veggies, tempting me to linger (wisely, I opted to resist buy anything, deciding that I stood out enough without spilling cured meats and chard onto pedestrians on my run home).

After several similar adventures, I began to wonder: what was so alluring about the church and the market? Was it beauty that drew me to the former, gluttony to the latter? If so, why didn’t the palaces or much-yelped restaurants of a new city beckon to me quite as irresistibly as my two standbys? Perhaps the church and market, rooted as they are in traditions of disposable income, simply mark flourishing or historic neighborhoods. Or, perhaps they play to a shallower instinct: the open-air produce stall, manned by a rotund and jovial hawker of wares, and the looming spire are both the images of postcard Europe. Perhaps they appeal to the tourist in me that can’t help romanticizing the exotic.

But back in Dublin, a city where I am simultaneously resident and tourist, I find fresh perspective. Even on my busiest weekends, I tend to spend an hour at the Temple Bar Farmer’s Market on Saturday, and another hour at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday. As I pick through melons, pretending I know how to tell when they’re ripe, or listen to the Cathedral’s five-centuries-old choir, I’m reminded of the Portland, Oregon open-air market and choral services on holidays with family. If my semester of high-school Intro to Psych serves, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs tells us that humans need food, shelter, companionship, and various forms of spiritual goals, in roughly that order, to self-actualize as individuals. I find that, when old companions don’t always transplant from one location to the next, the universals of food, shelter, and even the vaguest sense of spirituality carry their image. Whether by chance or by choice, the church and market symbolize home. As I travel, these mainstays situate Paris in Portland, Portland in Paris, and both destinations in Dublin, cities that refract each other into a constellation of my experience here.

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