This place matters

This place matters

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Motherlands: Chester

Last year Jeremy and I had the incredible fortune to visit England and Ireland. When I finished college, the farthest I'd ever been away from home was Northern Virginia, and though I'd dreamed of going there all my life, I don't think I really believed it possible until we touched down in Dublin. It seems impossible to describe the feeling of visiting a place that had previously only existed in books, but my face hurts from smiling just thinking about it, so maybe that's all the description needed.
I should point out that it turns out I am a terribly nervous traveler and was abjectly terrified and homesick the entire time we were there, but as it turns out it is completely possible to be enchanted beyond imagining while simultaneously feeling physically ill with the desire to be home.
I guess I'll start by talking about Jeremy's and my favorite city, Chester, a lovely and ancient city on the border with Wales. The historical sites in the city are incredible, particularly to a couple of kids whose apartment is probably younger than any of Chester's McDonald's restaurants. 
The historical highlights of the town include a partially unearthed Roman amphitheater (the non-unearthed portion is under a slightly younger ancient historical structure, because that's just how England rolls), Roman baths, and one of the most complete Roman city walls in England.
Ah, the Internet. Where you don't have to have a slide projector to bore your
loved ones with your vacation photos
It's super cool that Chester has all this Roman stuff, because Chester's name comes from the Latin word castra, which means settlement. That wouldn't be terribly exciting, given how much of our language does come from Latin. However, castra is one of the very few words to find its way into English directly from Latin.
See, the Romans conquered England a couple thousand years ago and apparently didn't hang out with the natives too much. The Romans and the natives were pretty intent on murdering each other, which kind of puts a damper on cultural exchange. So even though the Romans stuck around several hundred years, they left, and left nothing behind but a few words, some cities, and a whole lot of corpses. Castra was one of the handful of words that stuck, and it survives in the name of every city with chester, cheshire, caster, or shire in its name.

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