Despite the fact that I never enter them at home, I find myself hanging out in churches a lot when I travel. Not because I seek answers, or peace- I just think they are pretty. And God’s pad can be a good place to gather your thoughts, actually. If I could smoke and drink beer in them, I might become a permanent house guest. Couch surfing the globe with Ol’ J.C.
Uncertainty accompanies the moment I first enter them. My scuffed Doc Marten hovers over the threshold as I wonder if this is the day that the sheer will of The Divine will drive my heathen ass back through the doors and into the bright sunlight where I will combust like a Tibetan monk. It’s yet to happen, though. I remain happily beyond redemption- although a slightly curious thing did occur in Cuba. I was enjoying half an hour of quiet time- thinking my thoughts as one does- when I had a, um, revelation of sorts. Something I had been ruminating on suddenly clicked into place. My lightbulb moment happened at the exact time the maintenance man turned on a light beside me- ostensibly to test it. True story. It was comical. If only the organ cleaner had of played an F-sharp note on the keys, as well.
I have to admit that I indulge in some…compulsive behaviours in when I’m in church. This next part is written with some sheepishness, but- gulp– I usually cross myself upon exiting. I know, I know. I’m a fucking athiest for Christ’s sake (Ha! Geddit?) and I am sure that all of my scientifically-minded comrades are now tittering in disgust. I do feel slightly ashamed, it’s almost as if I am publically expressing a fondness for some sort of perverse sexual deviancy.
I’m certain there’s a priest joke to be made here. Hmmm.
I don’t know what it is about these buildings that gets the old Irish Catholic blood pumping, but it feels disrespectful somehow to leave without turning quickly and giving a little ‘spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch’. I tell myself that it’s just a courtesy, in much the same way I wouldn’t enter a Buddhist temple in hot-pants, I respect the beliefs of the Catholic community- no matter how ridiculous they may seem to me. Once upon a time I used to take great delight in baiting Christians. It was a hobby. However, age has taught me that someone who pokes fun at the beliefs of others is generally no better than the people who try and force said beliefs onto you. I can’t do it anymore. Last year in London, I entered a church and sat quietly at one of the pews. There was a middle aged couple on the kneeling board thingamajig adjacent to me, praying. They sat back down, and the woman abruptly burst into tears. Great, heaving ones that consumed her whole body. That’s why I don’t bait Catholics anymore in a neat, allegorical nutshell- a person’s faith is something that often gets them through their darkest moments. I have no idea what this woman was crying about- a death was my first thought- but this church provided her with something far bigger than my stubbornly logical, athiest brain could ever fathom. I can’t take a person’s faith away from them and look at myself in the mirror. I just can’t.
My newfound respect quickly morphed into curiosity from there and, well, I hang out in churches now.
Then I leave, smoke some weed, take the Lord’s name in vain, watch pornography on my phone, kill someone, and covet their wife.
The Cathedral of Oaxaca in Zocalo isn’t known for being the nicest church in the city. Many would argue that it’s sort of like an average-looking kid sister when compared to the others, but it’s still lovely in it’s own way. I was standing at the altar silently admiring the stained glass when a fellow came up to me and began speaking rapid Spanish. I must have looked lost because he paused and said, “Hablas español?”
“Poco español,” I answered.
Unpertubed, he continued to speak, gesticulating at the altar. I caught enough random words to deduce that he was giving me some sort of in-person audio tour. He spoke with pride, passion. His eyes were alight with love. I wanted to convey my appreciation for what he was clearly so fond of, and while I don’t know the Spanish word for beautiful, I do know the one for pretty. I learnt bonita the same day I learnt novilo. From a cab driver. I had just woken up from my Cuban nightmare and was catching a cab from the airport to my hotel in Mexico City. The driver only spoke Spanish, and I was struggling to have a conversation with him. He asked if I had a novilo.
“Si, novilo,” he took his hands off the wheel to mime kissing someone. The cab swerved violently.
“Ah. No. No novilo.”
When asked this question I usually respond with a joke. Depending on my mood it’s either an arrogant one: “I’m far too attractive to settle for just one member of the opposite sex! I’m greedy. I want them all,” or an adorably disarming one: “Boys are trouble!”
The first statement seemed beyond my capabilities, so I racked my sleep deprived brain for ‘trouble’ in Spanish. The closest I could come up with was muertos i.e. Boys are dead.
The cabbie was looking at me expectantly. Two things occurred to me: he should really be watching the road, but also I don’t have a personality in Spanish. I can be polite, thankful, friendly, and utterly vanilla; but I can’t be CC. Not yet, anyway. However, this all seemed unimportant so I just shrugged.
It must have seemed melancholic because he let go of the wheel- again- touched my arm, and told me that I was bonita. Muy bonita, in fact.
I was muy grateful, especially considering I had spent the night in a Cuban airport and was fairly certain that I looked like I had been dragged through the Himalayas from the undercarriage of a bus. It was a lovely welcome back to civilisation. Not only could I get a hamburger and a cold beer here, I was randomly complimented by a total stranger. Viva la Mexico. I tipped him, of course. If you ever want to make some extra cash you can probably just follow me around and tell me that I’m attractive. Do it enough and I’ll start regurgitating coins like a slot-machine.
Actually, I first thought bonita meant beautiful- yes, I am that vain. I’m not even sure where I got “beautiful” from. I know I stepped away from Google Translate long enough to be lied to be another medium- the all-knowing Yahoo Answers, probably. It’s interesting that I readily believed that ‘bonita = beautiful’ when I question everything else I read on there. Realistically, what the cabbie said could have been a Mexican idiom that was lost in translation (“You don’t have a boyfriend? Well, that’s because you are unfuckable. Very unfuckable. I’m sorry you had to hear it from a cab driver, but somebody had to send you spiralling back to reality.”)
Anyway, I later learnt that it means “pretty”.
In other words, this happened:
Waiter: “How was your meal, senorita?”
CC: “Very pretty, thank you.”
So I wanted to tell my new friend that I thought his church was lovely. Problem was, I couldn’t remember ‘it is’ in Spanish. It was either ‘es’ or ‘estoy’. Hmm. Which one? I couldn’t recall, and I had a 50/50 chance of being correct, so I picked one.
“Estoy muy bonita.”
He paused, frowning at me in utter incomprehension. Finally, he shook his head, said, “Si,” and walked away.
For those that don’t speak Spanish. Allow me to translate what happened.
A man stands next to a blue haired girl in a church. He is talking: “The altar is blah, blah, blah with blah and Saint blah, blah, blah protects blah, blah in the blah with a blah-dy, blah, blah and this is original blah glass with 18th Century blah, blah, blah.”
He looks at the girl. She is staring at the altar. “Wow,” she says softly. She turns and offers him a 50-watt smile. “I am very pretty.”
The day I grasp Spanish will almost be a sad one, I will have no material left for this blog.