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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

what travel does for a family

As a child a read many Dennis the Menace comics about family trips — each worse and more disastrous than the last. And it is true that when we set out on a long car ride the litany of misery from the boys, interrupted only by the duration of whatever movie we have loaded in each of their players, is daunting. And yet today, even our younger and more-given-to-complaint son was saying he wanted to come back to Vermont soon. That was not because we are doing such amazing things — though yesterday’s nearly endless sequence of blueberry pancakes provided the wonderful Norwood and Joanna Long certainly soothed the savage beasts. Rather it is just that once we are out of the car and settled in nearly anywhere, the kids begin to realize that there is an elsewhere — there are places that look different, sound different, smell different. Sure the kids hunt for familiar toys — or anything that they can turn into some version of their home games of Star Wars combat. But from the moment when Rafi will ask — is Vermont in America? — to the look of absolute attention and pleasure on Sasha’s face when we took care of the dog we are watching — the benefit of the vacation is that, as Marina say, “you have to take yourself out of your life.”

My blackberry is not working — which I don’t like, but need. We are living a few days of a different life, different rhythm, different assumptions, different geography and that is terrific. That is perhaps the main value of going to historical sites — not whatever details you learn, but that you experience the place — you understand how history unfolded in a specific location, not on a textbook page. Understanding that location — and of course that time — is the translation which makes history come alive, that dislocation of your self, that entry into another space, is real time travel.


  1. Jackie Church says:

    Marc — Your lead about Dennis the Menace comics drew me right in. There was at least one comic book edition that I wish I had today. Dennis and his parents took a trip to several famous locations in the West — Sutter’s Mill, the Grand Canyon, the Redwood Forests, etc. I loved that comic and I learned so much from it, despite Dennis almost destroying something at every site. It’s one of those items from my youth I wish I could get my hands on again, and also wish it would be re-issued. Looking back, I learned a lot from comic books (well, not all of them, but many of them) — like vocabulary, geography, customs, and cultures, not to mention history.

    And I learned a lot from our family vacations. Like you, I may not have learned the intricacies of the events any better, but I got a sense of the place. Going to the location tests what your mind’s eye imagined a place was like — was the battleground small or large, was the building more primitive than you imagined or was it nicer? Were people really short enough to fit in those bunks? Traveling to these places and tramping around gave me a setting to put the characters in, whether Independence Hall or Jamestown, a whaling boat in Massachusetts or a mission in California. I can then take characters — historical and fictional — and place them in a more realistic setting.

    Now, to see if I can get my hands on a Dennis summer vacation issue. Maybe I can find the one when he went to Hawaii and ate poi…

  2. Marc Aronson says:

    let us know if you find it — I remembered the antic tone and slapstick chaos of the comics more than the details of where they went. We are on our way to Montreal and Quebec City — I’ll get to see the Plains of Abraham, which I’ve read about often, and even wrote about, but have never actually seen before now. I’m sure my sense of the 7 Years War will change when I’m actually there.