Monday, March 28, 2011

So the kid likes churches

I'm finding it strange, on a trip like this, to find how few of my expectations have been met, both positive and negative. We had all sorts of assumptions about this trip, some verbalized, most probably not, but very few of them have turned out to be correct. One such assumption was that Chloe, being two, would have no interest whatsoever in museums, churches and architecture. We figured we'd have to drag her to see these things or visit on our own, individually.

Well, I was right about architecture. She might as well be walking around Scarborough for all her interest in her surroundings. I'm not sure she even notices that buildings here are quite different from home. Maybe she will when we go back. But churches and museums, they're another story altogether.

Chloe likes museums and she loves churches. Of course she enjoys these things only as a two/three year old can, in 30 minute blocks. But I can't think of very many other things that can keep Chloe interested for a whole thirty minutes, besides Dora the Explorer.

When we go into a church, as we did again yesterday (I can't pass any of them by anymore. She points each one out and asks to go in), Chloe always asks, "is it o.k. Daddy? Can we go in, or is there a mask going on?" I check and let her know whether indeed there is mass to worry about, and then we proceed inside (as with every other building in town, she has no interest in the exterior).

Once inside, Chloe has questions about everything she sees. "Why is it dark. Who's the man hanging there, why can't I go up there where the man usually speaks? Where's the mask?" While answering each question, I become palpably aware of two things: my own interest in churches when I was younger (and again when I traveled through Europe for the first time), and the amount of stale air and ghosts that fill the churches over here. The history and the richness of the cultural and religious baggage that fills these places is both awe inspiring and stifling. It all utterly fascinates me. Renaissance paintings adorn the walls, paint chips off the roofs and off the frescoes. No one is usually there, except a few tourists and, sometimes, the odd of faithful who looks to be from another time and place. Dishes are left for donations, so that the chipped paint might one day be fixed. So many churches, so few faithful left. These temples stand as lovely but nearly abandoned monuments - hollowed out skeletons of power and influence.

Apparently, it all fascinates Chloe as well, at least on some level. She looks up at the high ceilings and the buttressed arches with her mouth open, just gawking - too young to appreciate the hours, days, weeks and years men toiled to build these shrines. One day, I can't wait to talk to her about Michelangelo's devotion to his maker - the beauty of a man giving everything, his love, his art for what he believes. That type of human devotion, accomplishment holds surprising sway over me, regardless of my own views on God.

Our family is not religious, and Chloe had never set foot in a church until we arrived in Nice. So I'm left baffled when trying to answer her questions about the man hanging on the cross, or why we have to be quiet, respectful. It must all seem so strange and mystical to her - hence her interest, I suppose. I tell her that we try to respect what other people respect, especially when we're in a place that's important to them. I try to explain to her that these churches are places of peace and security for the people who attend them. One day, I'll be able to talk to her of faith and fear and mortality. But I think three is a little young for that. Funny though, I realize I can't begin to have her understand faith until she can understand death - the two are so inextricably linked.


  1. Sean, what wonderful times you are having over there in Provence. Just imagine when you go back next time and the time after that just how much different the girls' interests will be.

    I think to understand death is to understand life. For without life, there would be no death. Yet, death is only a part of life - as is faith. I think children learn best about life in nature... and it's great that you started them out travelling so young. There's so much to explore, love and want to protect.

  2. Yes Kim. Death is as much a part of life as air or water. Without acknowledging it and accepting it, we never fully live, I don't think. I'm not there yet...

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