Sentimental Journeys

Laurence Sterne was dying of consumption, the polite yet dramatic term that people used to employ for pulmonary diseases, especially tuberculosis. He had contracted it by 1740, when he was still in his 20s, and he fought for his every breath for his remaining three decades of life.

In 1765, he left England in search of better breathing, and he traveled abroad to France and Italy. He was a surprise best-selling author by this point, a clergyman who had decided on a whim to start telling the life story of a character but by not telling it in a straightforward manner, to comically digress his way through The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. One of the earliest novels in English or any language, “Shandy” was an instant success when its first two volumes started appearing in 1759.

The genre we call “travel writing” was not as common in the 1760s as it is now, and most works in that genre at that time were quite unsentimental: verbal pictures of natural phenomena and wonders of the man-made world and warnings-slash-complaints about the foreignness of foreigners on their strange home turf. In his 1765 journey, Sterne encountered fellow novelist Tobias Smollett, and the stern, dry Smollett left such an impression on the always amused Sterne that in his book, A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, he based a character named “Smelfungus” on Smollett. Nice revenge.
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A Sentimental Journey Through …

Laurence Sterne was dying of consumption, the polite yet dramatic term that people used to employ for pulmonary diseases, especially tuberculosis. He had contracted it by 1740, when he was still in his 20s, and he fought for his every breath for his remaining three decades of life.

In 1765, he left England in search of better breathing, and he traveled abroad to France and Italy. He was a surprise best-selling author by this point, a clergyman who had decided on a whim to start telling the life story of a character but by not telling it in a straightforward manner, to comically digress his way through “The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.” One of the earliest novels in English or any language, “Shandy” was an instant success when its first two volumes started appearing in 1759.

The genre we call “travel writing” was not as common in the 1760s as it is now, and most works in that genre at that time were quite unsentimental: verbal pictures of natural phenomena and wonders of the man-made world and warnings-slash-complaints about the foreignness of foreigners on their strange home turf. In his 1765 journey, Sterne encountered fellow novelist Tobias Smollett, and the stern, dry Smollett left such an impression on the always amused Sterne that in his book, “A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy,” he based a character named “Smelfungus” on Smollett. Nice revenge.
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One-Way Flight, No Layovers

I never looked for his book online or in a bookstore. He showed it to me, or he showed me a galley proof of it. And now, a decade later, I do not remember his name or enough about the book to find out whatever happened to him or it.

The two of us were passengers on a plane, and 98% of my personal air travel history dates from the years 2000 to 2004, when I moved from upstate New York to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and twice a year I returned home for holiday visits. The typical route was Eastern Iowa Airport to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to Stewart International Airport (or sometimes Logan in Boston), because there are no direct flights between Iowa and anyplace else I have ever lived. The book author was across the aisle from me.
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Happy Wonderer

If the photo above is not of the actual car that my family owned in 1979, it is the same model Chevy Malibu station wagon that my memory has chosen to remember as the actual car that my parents drove to cart my sister and ten-year-old me around that summer and every other summer, before 1979 and after. (My memory is not what it used to be: It is better!)

Our family road trips over about two decades included vacations in Vermont (to see family) and weekends on Cape Cod, in Pennsylvania, along the Connecticut shore. We were not a wealthy family, so our family vacations were always road trips to a destination that we could reach in one day or less of driving. My father was the only driver, so this was more than fair. The long(ish) car ride was simultaneously unendurable and somehow, maybe sometimes, the only part of the trip that was worth remembering.
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The Story so Far …

I never looked for his book online or in a bookstore. He showed it to me, or he showed me a galley proof of it. And now I do not remember his name or much about the book.

We were on a plane, and 98% of my personal air travel history dates from the years 2000 to 2004, when I moved from upstate New York to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and twice a year I returned home for holiday visits. The typical route was Eastern Iowa Airport to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport to Stewart International Airport or Logan in Boston, because there are no direct flights between Iowa and anyplace else I have ever lived.

Sometimes I am a tense passenger, one of those who grips the armrest so tightly that I may as well pocket it and carry it home, and sometimes I am relaxed and almost human. Air travel offers an intensification of experience; one deals with emotions not often felt on the ground, from the fear of permanent change to the excitement of temporary reunions.
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