“The Allure of Churches” came from having written about Italy (and specifically its fine churches) for years. I knew before I started that one, however, that I wanted it to be absurdly short for its title. One imagines the allure of churches—for both believers and nonbelievers—as quite complicated and worthy of detailed explanation. This one I imagined comically short. I also deployed metaphors that seemed wildly out of context for the solemnity of church going: dorm rooms, Great Danes, roller coasters, Detroit. Looking at it again now, I see that almost inexplicable wonder in churches, as Philip Larkin did. I don’t believe, as Philip Larkin didn’t. In fact, I have grown to see most any church not as some monument to God’s grace and all that but rather as a monument to the ambitions of the rich and powerful. Churches, it’s nothing new, are also symbols of oppression and enslavement.
Still, the thrill one gets walking into a Saint Ignatius in Rome or a Saint Mark’s in Venice: it’s not unlike that first plunge of a roller coaster. No need to prolong the sensation. It’s ephemeral, precisely so we keep seeking it out. Like a short poem. I might also have added to the irony by later retitling it “The Churches of Italy” for my book From the Fire Hills.